Information Technology Bill: Govt withdraws UN proposal reminiscent of scrapped Section 66A

India has withdrawn certain provisions it had proposed to the UN committee in May 2022, similar to those set out in Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, sources familiar with the matter told ET.

The policy paper was withdrawn after failing to secure sufficient support from other members of the UN ad hoc committee, the sources said. The organization’s mission is to develop a comprehensive international convention to combat the use of information and communication technologies for criminal purposes.

Several countries from the European Union, the UK, El Salvador, Nigeria and Luxembourg opposed India’s proposal, saying it would directly affect “freedom of speech and expression” within their jurisdictions, according to the people cited above.

A new policy paper submitted by India in August 2022 omits Section 66A of the IT Act, which was mentioned in the May 2022 submission, according to ET’s analysis of the two documents.

Emails were sent to the Foreign Office asking why the policy paper was being withdrawn, and no response was heard until press time.

In its May 2022 report to the UN committee, India recommended that all member states adopt the necessary legislative and other measures to make it an offense if a person “uses a computer or any other communication device to send a message that is seriously offensive.” or is threatening, or which he knows to be false, and is intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience and danger. ”

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The wording of the three clauses is similar to that found in Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in 2015. In repealing Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Supreme Court said the provision “contravenes Section 19(1)(a) and has not been preserved under Section 19(2)”.

Article 19(1)(a) grants Indian citizens the right to exercise freedom of speech and expression, while Article 19(2) states that the government may impose “reasonable restrictions” on individuals exercising this right.

ET exclusively reported in June 2022 that India had recommended the measures at the second session of the International Convention against the Use of Information and Communication Technologies for Criminal Purposes in Vienna in May 2022.

The UN Ad Hoc Committee was established by a resolution of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held in January 2020.

The UN General Assembly then decided to create “an ad hoc open-ended intergovernmental committee of experts, representing all regions,” which would discuss and decide on an international convention to combat global cybercrime.

Important members of the UN Ad Hoc Committee include Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Japan, Estonia, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Portugal, the United States, the United Kingdom and India.

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