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Building a Responsible Cyber Society…Since 1998

ITA 2008 already has a provision.. if Sophia breaks our law

Posted by Vijayashankar Na on November 25, 2017
Posted in Cyber Law  | Tagged With: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The advent of the “Humanoid robots” and “Artificial Intelligence” is posing a challenge to the law makers and interpreters on how does the current laws affect the actions of these machines. Saudi Arabia has created a complication by granting “Citizenship” to a humanoid robot called “Sophia”.

The stories about and interviews of Sophia by journalists (Refer one article here) indicate that we may be in for some interesting debates on whether Sophia can raise a “Family” etc., but we as observers of Cyber Law need to also discuss whether Sophia can commit a Cyber Crime and if so how should our law deal with it.

While Sophia may be a good girl now and take some time to learn the bad habits of humans, commission of “Offences” through misuse of so called “Artificial Intelligence” or even the malfunction of AI or a simple automated functionality is a day to day problem to be dealt with.

When E Commerce Act 1998 was drafted in India or when ITA 2000 was enacted or when it was modified in 2008, we could not think of a “Humanoid Robot” as a citizen of a country a reality. But within two decades of the sprouting of the first thoughts of Cyber Laws in India, we are now staring at a possibility that a humanoid robot can claim the rights of a citizen. While some Islamic fundamentalists are already asking why this citizen of Saudi Arabia is not wearing a hijab or a burkah, we need to ask, what happens if Sophia commits an offence knowingly or unknowingly.

It is to the credit of our law drafters that we can still consider that ITA 2000/8 can address such a situation since knowingly or unknowingly a provision was created in the law to meet such contingencies.

Under Section 11 of ITA 2000 it is stated that “An electronic record shall be attributed to the originator if it was sent by an information system programmed by or on behalf of the originator to operate automatically”.

Since all actions of the robot has to be by means of an “Electronic Document” (which is an aggregation of binary impulses), and each such document can be attributed to the person who originated the binary impulse/s, the actions of the robot can be legally attributed to the person who caused the information system (i.e. the robot) to behave in that manner.

Hanson Robotics, the company which has created Sophia will therefore be firstly liable for all actions of Sophia. However, since Sophia has been “Adopted” by the Saudi Arabian Government, one can argue that the responsibility for the actions of Sophia shifts to the Saudi Arabian Government. Hence Sophia becomes a “Government Property” of the Saudi Government and actions against her would be a war against Saudi and actions from her could be an action of the Saudi Government.

If therefore Sophia breaks any law of India, we should be prepared to launch an international litigation against Saudi Government which is considered a “Friendly Country” for India. I urge Ms Sushma Swaraj to think if we need a special “Treaty” with not only Saudi Government but also any other Government which in future would adopt such “Robots” as citizens so that any intended or unintended transgressions of Indian law by these robots would be considered as actions of the respective Governments and India retains the right to take actions against such Governments.

There is also a threat that sooner or later, just as Drones have become tools of terrorism, Sophia and her family may be taken over and radicalized by muslim terrorists and commit terror acts. We need to be prepared for such contingencies.

In this context, I would also like to warn all AI professionals that any AI device created by them will also be creating liabilities to the creators and they need to take necessary steps to ensure that what they consider as “Technical Snags” donot result in “Cyber Crimes” and put the creators behind bars.

Be Aware, Be compliant, Be Safe.


Was striking down of Section 66A Correct?

Posted by Vijayashankar Na on March 31, 2015
Posted in Cyber Law  | Tagged With: , , , | 2 Comments

The decision  of the Supreme Court of India [Writ Petition(criminal) No 167 of 2012]  in scrapping Section 66A of Information Technology Act has received accolades from many. It is accepted that there is no debate as to whether  Freedom of Expression is required or not. It  is a right we all love and thrive from.  We endorse every bit of support that the judgement expresses for protecting the “Right to Freedom of Expression” under Article 19(1) of our constitution.

It was also great to see that the decision brought relief to persons like the Palghar girls, Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, Professor Mahapatra, Ravi Srinivasan and others who were arrested by Police at different points of time for their political comments opposing politicians. They were wronged by the Police and Politicians with the help of Magistrates who did not apply their mid and committed them to custody initially without rhyme or reason.

But in providing  that relief , was it necessary to blame Section 66A and scrap it? Was it necessary? Was it Correct? … This is the debate of the day.

Was Scrapping of Section 66A necessary?

What did the striking down of Section 66A achieve?.  It has made all the cases filed against the petitioners to the Supreme Court case infructuous. Most of the petitioners by this time had already obtained relief and hence the decision was only of academic interest to them. But it can prevent similar harassment in future.

This effect could have also been achieved by the Supreme Court expressing that the action taken by the Police were blatantly wrong, indicated misuse of law and constituted violation of human rights. It could have ordered disciplinary action against all the police personnel who were responsible for the misuse.

This would have had a necessary chilling effect to prevent Police from indulging in similar excesses in future.

In our opinion therefore, the striking down of Section 66A was not essential to provide relief to the petitioners or to prevent similar happenings in future.

Was striking down of Section 66A Correct?

The majority of opinion expressed so far by the experts in law as well as members of the public have been that the action was correct. However we feel that the striking down of the section cannot be endorsed just because numbers are on that side. We need to debate whether the Court came to this decision for the right reasons.

Our point of view is that the striking down of the section was not based on correct reasons and that it has its own adverse impact on the responsible use of Cyber space.

Our main contention is that Section 66A was not enacted to address any of the issues that the petitioners brought before the Court and the section had been used by Police either by mistake or deliberately to fix the accused into an offence under which they could be arrested in the hope that Magistrates would not grant immediate relief. Hence while providing relief to them, ascribing injustice done to them to the presence of the section was wrong. The injustice should have been ascribed to the tendency of the Police to toe the line of the political bosses and harass common people, ignorance of the Police, Politicians, advocates and the Magistrates involved in these incidents.

We invite a debate on this issue across the Country and in the media.

I am happy to know that Cyber Society of India, (CySI)Chennai has contemplated organizing a seminar on this topic at Chennai probably on April 11, 2015.

Any body who wish to contribute papers in the seminar can contact the office bearers of CySI at www.cysi.in