Featured information technology act: Govt withdraws UN proposals reminiscent of scrapped Section 66A

Published on January 24th, 2023 📆 | 7883 Views ⚑

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information technology act: Govt withdraws UN proposals reminiscent of scrapped Section 66A


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India has withdrawn certain provisions it had suggested to a United Nations committee in May 2022, which were similar to those prescribed in Section 66 A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, people aware of the matter told ET.

The policy document was withdrawn after it failed to find adequate support from other member nations of the UN Ad-Hoc committee, sources said. The grouping has been tasked with creating a comprehensive international convention to counter the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes.

Several countries from the European Union, the United Kingdom, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Luxembourg opposed India’s proposal and said that it would be a direct impact on “freedom of speech and expression” in their jurisdictions, according to the people cited above.

A new policy document, submitted by India in August 2022, has omitted references to Section 66A of the IT Act that was present in its earlier submission of May 2022, an analysis of both submissions by ET showed.

Email queries to the Ministry of External Affairs seeking the reasons for the withdrawal of the policy document did not elicit any response till press time.

India, in its presentation to the UN Committee in May 2022, had suggested that all member nations adopt legislative and other measures which are necessary to establish offence if a person “sends, using a computer or any other communication device, information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character, or which he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience and danger.”

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The language of the three provisions is similar to that contained in Section 66 A of the IT Act, which was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in 2015. The Supreme Court had while striking down Section 66A of the IT Act, said that the provision was “violative of Article 19(1) (a) and not saved under Article 19(2)”.

Article 19(1) (a) gives citizens of India the right to exercise freedom of speech and expression, while Article 19(2) says the government can impose “reasonable restrictions” on the exercise of this right by individuals.

ET had in June 2022 exclusively reported that India had suggested these measures at the second session of the international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes, held in May 2022 in Vienna.

The UN Ad-Hoc committee was established by a resolution during the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) held in January 2020.

The UNGA had then decided to establish “an open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee of experts, representative of all regions”, which would discuss and decide on developing an international convention to counter global cybercrime.

The UN Ad-hoc committee counts among its prominent members, countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Japan, Estonia, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Portugal, the US, the UK, and India.

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