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Delhi police got over 3,000 distress calls from people panicked over riot-related rumours like violence, arson and stone pelting across the national capital. Around one-fifth of these calls on the emergency 100 and 112 numbers came from Shaheen Bagh in South East Delhi and nearby areas in South Delhi. Panic gripped residents across the national capital following false rumours of violence but the police denied any incident and appealed for calm. Besides the PCR calls, several people from within Delhi as well as outside called up police officials, including officers, directly to verify information about violence breaking out, the officer added. The rumours prompted senior police officers to come on ground and quell the hoax while also taking to social media to control panic. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation also shut down the entry and exit gates of seven metro stations but did not give any reason. The stations were reopened later. The police said it was closely monitoring the social media accounts spreading fake news or rumours and action will be taken against them

Decoding Section 505 of IPC:

  • Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report
    • with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman in the Army, Navy or Air Force of India to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or
    • with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility; or
    • with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  • Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes
    Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to create or promote, or which is likely to create or promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  • Offence under sub-section (2) committed in place of worship, etc- Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (2) in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.

What is the exception under section 505?

  • It does not amount to an offence, within the meaning of this section, when the person making, publishing or circulating any such statement, rumour or report, has reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumour or report is true and makes, publishes or circulates it in good faith and without any such intent as aforesaid.

Monitoring and surveillance

  • If we look at the establishment of the Central Monitoring System (“CMS”), which is a centralised telephone interception provisioning system installed by the Centre for Development of Telematics to automate the process of lawful interception; monitoring of telecommunications, there is a lack of clarity on the scope, functions, and technical architecture of the CMS.
  • It is worrying that there is no specific law which mandates or regulates the CMS. Surveillance in India is primarily governed by the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 (“Telegraph Act”) and the IT Act. Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act which empowers the Indian government to intercept communications on the occurrence of any “public emergency” or in the interest of “public safety”, when it is deemed “necessary or expedient” to do so in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.
  • On the other hand Section 69 of the IT Act (as amended in 2008) grants the government with the power to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted any information transmitted received or stored through any computer resource if it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence.
  • It is relevant to note that prerequisites of ‘public emergency’ and ‘public safety’ which were earlier nearly the same in the IT Act, and the Telegraph Act, have now been removed from IT Act with which the power of the government has become more extensive in relation to interception and monitoring of telecommunications.

Need for regulations of social media and challenges:

  • The speed and reach of social media has meant that subversive rumours and fake news get aired with impunity.
  • This has resulted in serious law and order problems. In India, this phenomenon has assumed dangerous proportions.
  • Fake news on WhatsApp has led to lynchings and communal flare-ups in many parts of the country. This menace needs to be curbed.
  • Too stringent a policy of policing social media could violate the individual’s right to privacy.
  • It’s not easy to force Facebook Inc., the owner of WhatsApp, to give up on the app’s unique selling proposition to the user of complete end-to-end confidentiality.
  • Messaging platforms act as mere conduits for encrypted information.
  • They deny decrypting or intercepting messages sent through their platforms.
  • Traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption, weaken consumer privacy and cybersecurity.
  • Since WhatsApp users converse outside Indian boundaries, the storage of a foreign user’s data could come with its own jurisdiction issues.
  • Asking a foreign company to establish an entity in India is only asking for greater control without clearly identifying the potential harm.
  • WhatsApp’s recent decision to restrict forwarding of messages to five users may only have limited impact in curtailing rumours.