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Freedom to ‘like’, ‘share’any content a fundamental right: Experts

The police in several cities, including the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, are conducting inquiries into the matter.

Written by Gautam Sandip Mengle | Mumbai |
June 11, 2014 2:11:04 am

A day after state home minister R R Patil made a statement saying  action would also be taken against those who ‘like’ or ‘share’ objectionable content on social networking websites, concerns were expressed over its possible ramifications by the police as well as cyber security and law experts.

Earlier this month, pictures of Hindu Gods and historical leaders morphed in an objectionable way were uploaded on Facebook, sparking off protests across Maharashtra. A young software engineer from Pune was also killed during one of the violent protests. The police in several cities, including the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, are conducting inquiries into the matter.

Experts agreed that if the government started taking such action, there would be no telling where the trend would stop once this particular gate was opened. “No one is denying that the Facebook posts in question were objectionable. But such moves create fear among people. Expressing my opinion is a very inherent part of my freedom of speech and arresting people only for ‘liking’ a post is a clear abuse of power,” said cyber crime lawyer N S Nappinai.

Cyber security and law expert Vijay Mukhi added, “According to section 66 of the IT Act, the minute I click on the ‘like’ option, I am supporting and agreeing with a post, and legally you can not fault the government. However, in my view, I should not go to jail if I ‘like’ a joke about Rahul Gandhi, but should be arrested if I ‘like’ a morphed picture of a God. I hope that the police only go after those who like or share posts that are really objectionable.”

Experts also agreed that there needed to be better standardisation of defamation laws in India. “Making a defamatory statement in a printed format is a non cognizable offence, but if made on the internet, it becomes a cognizable offence,” said Nappinai. Mukhi agreed, saying, “Different sets of rules cannot apply for Facebook and for newspapers. There also needs to be a clearer definition of the term ‘objectionable’ in the IT Act.”

The police, on their part, are concerned about the realities of such a move. “In this probe, servers are located in a foreign country, which always acts as a limiting factor. Blocking is just another aspect in the ongoing probe.  But to prove likes and sharing as offences, we need to be clear of certain specific details. This is a lengthy process, and which ‘like’ and ‘share’ is a matter of offence also depends on the circumstances,” said Director General of Police Sanjeev Dayal, Maharashtra police.

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