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    Here’s Why We’re Worried About Kolkata Police Sending Legal notice to this X user

    What’s the news: The cybercrime department of the Kolkata Police recently issued a notice to X user ‘Spitting Facts (Modi Ka Parivar) for sharing a meme video of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that allegedly “can adversely affect the law-and-order situation.” Interestingly, before issuing a printed notice, the local police responded to the video post with a threat to arrest the user unless they disclosed their name and residence. The incident sparks debate not only about the state of online free speech in India but also regarding the right to remain anonymous on the internet.

    Kolkata police allegedly charges user under two CrPC provisions/ User warned under two CrPC provisions:

    In the intervening night between May 3 and May 4, 2024, the user Spitting Facts – whose feed contains many pro-BJP and anti-Opposition posts – posted a meme video that allegedly showed Banerjee dancing at a concert stage.

    On May 6, the ‘DCP, Cybercrime, Kolkata Police’ X handle replied to the video stating “You are directed to immediately disclose your identity including name and residence. If the information sought is not revealed, you shall be liable for legal action u/s 42 CrPC.” This message was since deleted by the police although other X users have shared screenshots of the tweet.

    In the afternoon of the same day, Spitting Facts then posted an image of a notice sent to the user by the Kolkata police asking the user to remove the post and charging the person under Section 149 of the CrPC. For now, it seems that Spitting Facts has refused to comply with the police notice since the post is still up on their feed.

    What are Sections 149 and 42? Under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC), Section 149 talks about the prevention of cognizable offences while Section 42 sub-clause (1) looks at preventing non-cognisable offences. However, while Section 149 allows for a warrantless arrest, a person can still be arrested under Section 42(1) if the person “refuses… to give [their] name and residence or gives a name or residence which such officer has reason to believe to be false.”

    Why it matters: Regardless of which Section has ultimately been used in this case, the actions of the Kolkata police are concerning in terms of free speech. The video in this case, while meant to poke fun at Banerjee, did not contain any apparent evidence of threat to public order. The video also did not violate any of the reasonable restrictions mentioned in Article 19(2). Even considering the discussions around deep fakes, the video does not spread any misinformation. Why then did the notice mention public order as a concern? Moreover, the demand to know the user’s name and address impacts a user’s right to remain anonymous on the internet which is related to online privacy. During a MediaNama event on ‘Exploring User Verification’ Varun Sen Bahl, Public Policy Manager at NASSCOM, talked about how anonymity and privacy are connected, but are not necessarily the same right. He also talked about how offline anonymity differs from online anonymity where users have an expectation where that their anonymity can be infringed upon for a lawful or consented purpose. It’s worth considering whether the Kolkata police has stated a ‘lawful purpose’ in this case.

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    The post Here’s Why We’re Worried About Kolkata Police Sending Legal notice to this X user appeared first on MediaNama.

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