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 Section 66A in Karti Vs Ravi incident-(Part I)

Click Here for Part II

Section 66A of ITA 2008 has been receiving lot of attention presently because of the arrest of one Twitter user by name Ravi Srinivasan. There is widespread criticism of the section warranting a need for an academic debate on whether there is anything wrong in the section itself or in its interpretation and if so who is responsible for the interpretation which lead to the arrest of Mr Ravi Srinivasan, a 45 year old small time businessman who incidentally was also an IAC worker.

Facts of the case as reported in the media are as follows.

It is alleged that Mr Ravi Srinivasan had posted a message on Twitter stating  

 “got reports that Karti chidambaram has amassed more wealth than vadra.”

This message would have been present on the twitter page of Mr Ravi and would be available for a search engine to identify if any other person searched for a message say for words such as “Karti” or “vadra”.  It would have been distributed as a notification to 16 followers of Mr Ravi.

Mr Karti Chidambaram s/o Union Finance Minister and eminent advocate Mr P Chidambaram, then sent an email to  Police at Puducherry raising some objection to the message.

 We may presume that the email  alleged that he was being “defamed” by the posting. Puducherry Police  then sent a fax to Tamil Nadu Police which caused Tamil Nadu police to call on Mr Ravi Srinivasan’s house at 5.00 am and arrest him under Section 66A of iTA 2008.

 Mr Ravi  Srinivasan  was  then produced before a magistrate was then released on bail.

Now the proceedings will continue and if Mr Ravi Srinivasan is found guilty he may be punished under Section 66A which carries a possible imprisonment of upto 3 years besides fine.

Considering the importance of this incident to "Netizens Right to Freedom of Speech and Personal Liberty", it is therefore essential for us to analyse the whether the incident reflects the offence for whcih the accused has been charged.

 Section 66A states as under:

66–A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.


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 makes 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,

shall  be  punishable  with  imprisonment for  a  term  which  may  extend  to   three years and with fine.


Explanation: For the purposes 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, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

The title of the section indicates the legislative intention that this section should address offences committed with the use of e-mails and messages sent through communication devices meaning  SMS/MMS messages. This supplements Section 66 which applies to  publishing and distribution of "Obscene messages".  Publishing of "Defamatory Messages" are covered under IPC where  electronic document can be admitted as an evidence.

Sec 66A has three sub sections. The first relates to information that can be classified as “Grossly Offensive” or “Menacing”. The second addresses to “False information” and third to “Impersonated messages”.

Under section 66A(a), sending of messages which are grossly offensive or menacing is an offence.While what is “menacing” can be inferred as something   which   is   designed   to   harm   a person    or    property,    what    is    “Grossly offensive”   can   be   a   matter   of   judicial interpretation. What can be offensive to one may  not  be  so  to  another.  What  can  be grossly offensive to a person in one age group or political affiliation or religion may not be so to a person of another age group or political affiliation or religion.

“Obscenity” can be offensive to some. A Cartoon can be offensive to another. Cruelty can be offensive to some while a picture of a bomb blast can be offensive to another. Also what   is   “Offensive”   may   not   always   be “Grossly Offensive”.

This  section  will  therefore  be  tested repeatedly in Courts in the coming days.

Sub section (b) relates to “information known to be false by the person sending it” andhence is not applicable for information that the sender believes to be true.

We may note that “Grossly Offensive” or “Menacing” messages under sub section (a) will be punishable even if the person sending it believes it to be true. The distinction of whether a message is “Grossly Offensive” or not becomes irrelevant if it can be   proved that  the  sender  knew  that  the  information was false.

Second condition to be fulfilled for invoking Sec 66A(b) which is not present in 66A (a) is that the information has  to be sent “persistently”.

In other words, only false messages sent repeatedly qualify  as  an  offense  under  this sub section.

Under these pre-conditions, the purpose  of sending the message can be argued as either to cause annoyance, criminal intimidation, ill will etc.

The subsection 66A(c) refers to cases where a message is sent to “deceive or mislead the addressee  or  recipient  about  the  origin  of such messages”. As a result of this provision many spam messages and all Phishing messages will come under this section.

Sending of messages through SMS or E mail for what is called “Cyber Stalking” or “Cyber Bullying” will also be   offences under this section.

 A question may  arise if content posted on a website or a blog can be called as “message” under this section. If one goes by “legislative intent” it appears that  section 66A is to be applied in cases of E Mails, SMS/MMS or messages and not for content posted on a website. 

Twitter is a “Micro Blogging” website where the account holder is provided a page where his “tweets” are published. These will be available for reading and for search engines to pick up. If any person uses a search engine he may pull the information. He may also stumble upon the page if he knows the URL of the tweeter.

A few persons may register themselves as “Followers” and at their request the website sends them copies of the tweets automatically.

In the instant case Mr Ravi Srinivasan has only mentioned that he “Got reports” and the report was that “Mr Karti had amassed more wealth than Vadra”.

The message is not “Grossly offensive” or “Menacing” and hence cannot fall under Section 66A(a). There is no hiding of source identity and hence it cannot come under Section 66A(c).

For the offence to be considered as falling under 66A(b) apart from it being annoying etc., it has to meet two more tests namely “it should have been sent persistently” and “the sender should not know that it is false”.

Based purely on this message, it is difficult to imply  defamation by any ordinary person either on Mr Karti or on Mr Vadra.

However it appears that Mr Karti has interpreted the message as defamatory to himself for whatever reason he may feel right and lodged a complaint.

Psychologically, this possibility reflects a combination of “Persecution Complex” or a “Guilty mind” and “Prejudice on Mr Vadra” by the complainant. He might have felt that mere comparison to Mr Vaadra was defamatory. Such a tendency is seen in many cases of “Pseudo Cyber Stalking” where a victim goes through an imaginative experience in his mind and reacts on the basis of such feeling. I have personally come across two such instances both in Chennai. I therefore consider that filing of a complaint by Mr Karti cannot be objected to. It is his right and he has exercised it.

However, Police need to have been more professional in their approach and rather than blindly acting on the complaint, ought to have examined the incident ignoring  the political affiliation of Mr Karti.

If Police consider that Mr Ravi had committed a “Prima Facie” offence under Section 66A, they need to prove that Mr Ravi knew that the information (that there was a report...) was false and still he sent messages persistently to Mr Karti to cause annoyance etc.

Since such evidence was unlikely to have been  available with the Police at 5.00 am when they went for arrest, it is clear that they had no prima facie evidence to consider that Section 66A was applicable.  At best they could have only invited him for further enquiry and collection of his statement during normal hours of the day. This would have been more civil and would have also satisfied Mr Karti. By acting in the manner they have done  they have brought Mr Karti to disrepute and caused more harm to him than what Mr Ravi  Srinivasan could ever do with his tweet.

In view of the above, it appears that the Police officers involved in the arrest were grossly ignorant of the provisions under Section 66A of ITA 2008 .

Click Here for Part II

[P.S: The above is the opinion of Naavi as a Techno legal consultant and not to be treated as a legal opinion. Also I declare that this as well as Part II of the article has been written for academic debate and I declare that I am not a member of any political party and no special motivation can be attributed to the references made in the articles]


November 3, 2012

Related Article:

Part II of the Article

Twitter joke trial: Do “offensive” tweeters have freedom of expression rights?

Judgement Paul Chambers

House of Lords opionion

July 2012: Report in Guardian

27th June 2012: High Court Judgment

Australian view

[Comments welcome]