February 26, 2020
The HC has issued a rule on the government asking why two of the sections of the Digital Security Act, 2018 (DSA) should not be declared illegal. While the HC has referred to Sections 25 and 31 only, we feel, and we have made this known since before the bill was passed as law, that many more provisions of the DSA should be scrapped—those being in violation of the fundamental tenets of the constitution—particularly sections 21, 25, 28, 31, 32, and 43, which go against freedom of speech and independent journalism.
The media, and print media in particular, had been constantly highlighting the gross lacunae in the Bill during its finalisation process, but it was passed rather hastily. The law is not only draconian, it is vague in many instances and gives wide and unlimited power to the law enforcing agencies. A law that empowers the police to take drastic measures against a publishing house or arrest a journalist on mere suspicion that an offense under this law might be committed, can be anything but conducive to the idea of a free media or to the concept of freedom of speech.
The reservations of the media had been highlighted in meetings with the law minister and through detailed explication of each of those sections that hamper freedom of speech and impose unwarranted restrictions on journalists in the performance of their professional duty. The law minister had also concurred with the worries expressed by the Editors’ Council as being logical and had assured the nation, following a meeting with the Council and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Post, Telecom, and ICT, that the loopholes and vagueness in the Act would be removed. And that was nearly six months before the Bill was passed in September 2018, without any changes being made.
We believe that laws are meant to be facilitative rather than restrictive. We also believe that the government needs to safeguard the nation against cybercrime, but to introduce a law to chastise those that do not “fall in line” with the government is neither helpful for inculcating a free media nor to democracy.