Section 66A - Sending offensive or false messages

As we have discussed in the earlier articles, under the amended Information Technology Act, Section 66 has been completed amended to remove the definition of hacking. Amendments also introduced a series of new provisions under Section 66 covering almost all major cyber crime incidents. From this article onwards we will look at those sections.
With internet and telecommunication virtually controlling communication amongst people, amendments in the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) have made it clear that transmission of any text, audio or video that is offensive or has a menacing character can land a sender in jail. The punishment will also be attracted if the content is false and has been transmitted for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger or insult.

Incidents

5-6 pc of spam e-mails originate from India - The share of spam e-mails originating from India is about 5-6 per cent of the total worldwide spam email traffic.
FB effect, B'lore: IIMB girl kills self for boyfriend. Girl's friend charged with abetment to suicide as well as under the provisions of the Information Technology Act.
Malini Murmu, 22, a first year MBA student from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore allegedly committed suicide after her boyfriend dumped her and made the announcement on Facebook.
Police sources say Malini left behind a suicide note saying she was killing herself since her boyfriend left her. Investigations revealed that on the day she killed herself, Malini and her boyfriend had an argument which led to the breakup. Later her boyfriend left a post on Facebook saying, "feeling super cool today, dumped my new ex-girlfriend. Happy independence day".

The Law

Section 66A of the IT Act is a relevant section which penalizes ‘sending false and offensive messages through communication services’. The section reads as under –

Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

a)any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
b)any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
c)any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.

Punishment - Imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Explanation — For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

The section covers tow different acts –

  1. Sending offensive or menacing messages sent by using electronic communication means.
  2. Sending false messages to cheat, mislead or deceive people or to cause annoyance to them.

While proving false message is relatively easy, but the real question is ‘What constitutes an electronic message to be offensive or of menacing character?’ Indian law has not defined anywhere the meaning of ‘offensive’ or ‘menacing’. As per the laws of general English, a person receiving message should find that to be offensive to apply this provision, so its interpretation becomes relative and differs from person to person.

Cyber crimes like, intentionally sending SPAM messages, phishing emails, threatening messages, etc. can also be punished under this section. This section is also applied along with Section 67 or 67B which is related to cyber and child pornography respectively.

 

 
Sagar Rahurkar
[email protected]

Sagar Rahurkar is a Law graduate. He is a techno-legal consultant and a Senior Faculty at Asian School of Cyber Laws. Sagar specializes in Cyber Law, Cyber Crime Investigation, Computer Forensics and Intellectual Property Laws. Sagar teaches and provides consultancy to corporates, law enforcement agencies and education institutes across India.