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Interview With Pavan Duggal

Interview With Pavan Duggal

Fake news on social media sites is rising by the day. In India, people are deluged with false stories on social media which could potentially incite hate and rioting. 

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to noted cyber expert and Supreme Court lawyer on cyber laws Pavan Duggal who said that a strong political will is needed to curb the menace as it has a potential to change the political and social landscape of the country.

Expressing serious concern over the menace of fake news on social media, Duggal said fake news is beginning to create havoc on Indian society. He cautioned that fake news or rumours have the potential of changing the political landscape of the world and India in the next few years.

IC:  BJP's IT Cell Secretary Sengupta has been arrested by the CID on July 12 under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code for a fake news video he shared some weeks ago. Prior to this, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma was booked by the Kolkata police for allegedly posting pictures of 2002 Gujarat riots on Twitter and passing it off as that of the violence in Baduria. 

Pavan Duggal: These incidents are classic manifestation of fake news. The fact that there is no deterrent on fake news make people think that they can do just about anything and get away.  The problem is that fake news has never been a priority for the law makers to regulate it. So there is no law on fake news. Fake news should be covered under the Technology Act 2000. Fake news can be brought within the ambit of electronic forgery under section 468 and 469 of Indian Penal Code. At the same time, I would say that police is not inclined to use these provisions for registering fake news cases.  They treat it as a low priority crime.

IC: In the absence of a law, how do you expect the police to treat such cases on high priority? The lack of awareness among the policemen about it is also adding to the problem.

I agree with you. The police, by and large, are not thoroughly sensitized about the cyber law and its impact. In the last decade and a half, the cyber law has transformed itself from a small sectoral legislation into a mammoth digital law of the country. The law came into being in 2000 and was amended in 2008 but nothing was done to deal with fake news. The fake news has been there for the last decade and a half but it has become a huge problem in the last two-three years. The frequency of fake news has increased besides its impact and its intended effect.

It is regretful that there is no nodal agency to deal with fake news and also there is no remedy for victims of fake news. In India, the fake news has come with its own distinct customised flavour. Moradabad incident led to the communal riots. Since then we have seen repeated incidents of fake news which have serious impact on people and properties. In other countries, fake news is not believed as much as it happens in India because of their exposure to internet for a longer period.  In our society, people tend to believe in whatever they read on the internet to be true. India is a whatsapp nation where whatsapp determines people's sensibilities and colours their vision. Hence India has to do lot more on fake news. We should have a monitoring body or ombudsman for monitoring all kinds of fake news.

IC: The fact is that people in general cannot make a distinction between rumours and fake news. Does the responsibility not lie with the service provider to prevent spread of fake news?

It is time to fix responsibility for service providers as well. Platforms like Whatsapp cannot say that it has no control on how rumours get disseminated on its platform. So these platforms should have a mechanism or filters to prevent spread of rumours. Regrettably, the IT Act under section 79 does not make these service providers liable for carrying third party data if they comply with provisions of the law. Platforms need to be made accountable for carrying rumours or fake news. Besides, those responsible for spreading rumours should be targeted independently. It is high time that the government comes up with strict guidelines on fake news. Cyber law and cyber security need to be made part of school curriculum from the first standard onward. After all, young children are using IT gadgets.

IC: Why is that social networking sites get away with their responsibility of not carrying information that can have serious ramifications? The fact is that these sites follow the rules of their own country. Your views.

With the Supreme Court judgement in Shreya Singhal versus Union of India, service providers have virtually got a licence to kill. The SC judgement said that now you will not remove any information from your platform if you are an intermediary service provider, till the time you get a court order or an order from a government agency. So these service providers are hiding behind this judgement and avoid taking responsibility. We need to quickly review as the law is deficient. We cannot afford to have foreign service providers say that they won't comply with the law.

IC:  Political parties are allegedly spreading rumours or posting fake news and creating communal disharmony in the country…

In the absence of law, people take advantage and disseminate false information. If you make dissemination or publication of fake news as a serious crime, punishable with seven years' imprisonment or minimum damages of Rs 50 lakh, it will certainly act as a deterrent. Merely having provisions on the law are not sufficient.

IC: What, according to you, should be done to stop fake news?

There should be a political will to stop fake news. There should be a nodal agency to deal with fake news. There should be strict provisions for service providers on fake news issue.  Dedicated courts should be established to deal with fake news cases. In India, fake news can have distinct impact of making political changes in the country because constantly feeding information to people which may not be accurate so as to condition their preferences and choices is very easy. So, focus should be on cyber hygiene, cyber ethics and regulating fake news at the school level. We need to educate children about how to make a distinction between what is correct or incorrect.

(Published on 17th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 29)