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Monday, September 17, 2012

Teens, first-time offenders on net may get off lightly

NEW DELHI: Mindful of the young profile of social media users who may unwittingly commit cyber offences by accessing and circulating objectionable content, the government is mulling a graded response to cyber crimes involving teens and first-time offenders. The graded response would involve a warning and parental guidance for first-time offenders, many of whom do not realize the gravity of their act, rather than invoking penal action straight away under the Information Technology Act.

Discussions over the graded response are still at a nascent stage, and may undergo many permutations and combinations before being concretized into a code. Yet, the fact that government is looking at a softer way to deal with Net offences, which can attract a maximum penalty of seven years in prison, reflects a realization that the IT Act may be too harsh given the young and impressionable age of net users. Also, a softer response would effectively deal with Net offenders who share objectionable material without viewing its content and do not have any malicious intent.

Under the IT Act, uploading and disseminating objectionable, sexually explicit and communally sensitive messages, images and videos carries a maximum penalty of seven years. Though it is up to the courts to decide the quantum of the punishment, many feel that legal proceedings initiated against a young or first-time offender expose him to social stigma and adversely affect his studies and career.

NSCS behind the lenient approach

The proposal to have a graded response system for irresponsible use of social media networks is going through preliminary, intra-ministerial discussions, according to informed sources.

The home ministry and IT department are coordinating to fine-tune the concept. Sources indicated the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) was instrumental in mooting the idea of softening the response to net crimes. Often, the damage to a young person's life turns out to be incongruous with the intent with which the Net offence may have been committed.

It is not yet clear how the lenient approach to first-time net offences, particularly those involving social media, would be implemented. "As of now, the only clarity is that a first-time offender will be dealt lightly through non-punitive remedies like warning, counselling and parental guidance. It is only where these approaches fail an FIR will be registered," said a source.

Times View

The fact that officialdom is considering tweaking IT laws to take account of the profile of users of the web is a positive sign. Often in the past, the government has looked completely out of step with the new world of the internet. If this is a sign of that changing, we welcome it and hope it will gain momentum. It is indeed true that many of the offences under the IT Act may be done unwittingly by those too young to realise the full conse- quences of their action. Coming down on them like a ton of bricks serves no purpose. A graded response is indeed what is required. 
Source : The Times of India, Sept 17, 2012

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