Friday, November 09, 2007

Indian Techie Spends Fifty Days in Jail for No Fault of His. Is Information Technology Act 2000 Draconian?

Deepavali, the festival of lights is in full swing as crackers go off every now and then, deafening, making me jump sometimes. Had a quite day and read the shocking bits about a techie Lakshman being put in jail for a crime committed by someone else. He spent fifty days in jail before he was released. Apparently, the internet service provider had bungled, and provided a wrong Internet Protocol (IP) address.

The weight of the news sank in quite slowly. If the police don’t know the details of the basic technology, then it could be you or, even me. Then they should have cross checked the IP address before making the mistake of arresting the wrong person. To dismiss this as inevitable is to put at risk the very future of online connectivity and online communities in India.

But then what seems to be a draconian law (full text of the Information Technology Act 2000 is here) , one that gives the police rights to check on people and computers without a warrant. In the above case the investigators didn’t even check Lakshman’s computer. Evidence was gathered from the IP address given by the telecom carrier Bharti Airtel. It is a known fact that even IP addresses can be fudged, or, even proxies can be used by really smart techies to prevent their identities being known. According to the Act subsequently the police have to file a complaint with the Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CAT). The case will be decided by an adjudicating officer within six months from the date of appeal. What about Habeas Corpus Act and granting of bail to the offenders.

A major part of the above Act (which is based on the Model Law on Electronic Commerce passed by the United Nations) deals with electronic signatures and the violations of the conditions governing electronic signatures. Fact is that none of the companies/banks that conduct online business in India has yet implemented electronic signature interface so far. Reason? The public doesn’t trust any contractual obligation entered online, much less electronic signatures. Banks want you to take a print of a pdf document and sign it and mail to them. If the basic interface of online contracts and documentation is not accepted by the public, then what is the point in drafting the above Act in such a hurry and giving sweeping powers to the police?

Requires some deeper introspection from the government’s part, or, so I think.

5 comments:

Naavi said...

The problem in this case arose not because the law is draconian but because the Police mis applied the law and technology aware company Airtel gave a wrong IP identification.
According to the act Police can arrest without warrant only in a public place and for offences coming under the Act.

Here the Police appeared to have arrested the person in his private house for an offence under IPC. They also went to the nighboring state and did not give an opportunity for the arrested to seek immediate bail.

AirTel appears to have given a wrong address pointing to the victim when Police queried them on the IP address. They also owe an explanation.

Moreon this can be found on www.naavi.org

naavi

Anonymous said...

Naavi, thanks for the comment. The police apparently misunderstood the Act and arrested him at his residence. Also if they had arrested a person in a cyber cafe it would have been termed as an arrest in a public place.

To arrest a person in his house requires a proper warrant, and bail and a proper hearing should have been provided under the Habeas Corpus Act.

I guess, since the Act is in its infancey we have a lot more to discuss on the topic. Hope to receive some more feedback.

J

Arvind Patel said...

Yes this ACT is very very dreaded Draconian ACT. It can be easily misued. I know a case in GandhiNagar, Gujarat, where it was merely used to settle scores with a businesspartner-turned-enemy. That person was in jail without bail for 28 days.

This act should be revoked before many start to misuse this ACT to settle personal scores.

Naavi said...

I agree that the Act is misused often. FOr that matter IPC is also misused often. The solution is not in withdrawing the Act. If the mis-use is because of non understanding of the provisions, the solution is in education. If the mis-use is intentional, then strictly speaking there is no solution but police reforms. We can work towards this end.
In the meantime somebody can invoke RTI and find out from Cyber Crime police stations all over India about cases registered and the sections of ITA 2000 used and we may find several instances of wrong application of ITA 2000.
Naavi of www.naavi.org

Anonymous said...

Arvind thanks. However like Naavi I also feel that revoking the law is not the option here. Even IPC is misused to settle scores.

Naavi, agree IPC is also misused for personal vendetta. I guess police reforms are long overdue and RTI act should be invoked to check arbitrary misuse of acts such as ITA 2000. I guess it is the Civil Liberties activists who should look into this.