5 Things You Need To Know On Legality Of Offensive Emails & Messages

Have you been receiving offensive emails or messages from someone? And wondering what can you really do legally against the sender. 

Here are 5 things you need to know about the legal stand on these kinds of emails and the law enforcement measures you could take against the sender/doer.
Image credit: FreeImages.com/Agne Kveselyte
  1. Legality of Offensive emails or messages
    • Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000
      • E-communications bad in law: If any person sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,- a) Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or b) Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages. The terms "Electronic mail" and "Electronic Mail Message" means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.;
      • Punishment: Imprisonment upto 3 years with fine.
    • Chapter XII of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860
      • Criminal intimidation, etc.: Section 503 talks about threatening to injure a person or his reputation/property. Section 507 states laws on Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication. Section 509 prescribes laws on word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. Although the electronic communication is not specifically covered under these provisions, however, they are not excluded either. Hence, one can always take shelter under these provisions to move forward in law suit.
      • PunishmentSection 506 prescribes for imprisonment upto 3years or fine or both for criminal intimidation.
  2. Where to lodge complaints?
    • Adjudication powers - In case the claim for injury or damage does not exceed Rs. 5 crore, the Adjudication officer has the jurisdiction to adjudicate the matters in respect of contravention of any of the provisions of the Information Technology Act or any of the rule, regulation, direction or order made thereunder. By an order of the Central Govt. dated 25th March, 2003 G.S.R.240(E), the Secretary of the Department of Information Technology of each of the States or Union Territories has been appointed as Adjudicating Officer for the purpose of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
    • Format of complaint under Information Technology Act - Click here
    • Where to submit the complaint - Adjudicating Officer, c/o Directorate of Information Technology, 7th Floor, Mantralaya, Madam Cama Road, Hutatma Rajguru Chowk, Nariman Point, Mumbai - 400021. Email: [email protected]
    • For Fees structure for the complaint - Click here
    • In case someone wants to file a suit under Indian Penal Code, he can do so in a court of law or any other appropriate legal forum.
  3. Precautions - when you receive such communications.
    • It is better not to react immediately and reply to the sender - they may be able to track you.
    • Also it is advisable to store a soft copy of the email and if possible a printed copy too.
  4. What all electronic communications could get covered?
    • Communication through email;
    • Social media communications;
    • Correspondence through mobile including SMS, MMS, etc.;
    • Any other electronic communication.
  5. Controversies on Section 66A of IT Act and Supreme Court judgement
    • The legal ambit of sec 66A is considered to be pretty vast. With the words like "grossly offensive" or "menacing character", any acts of a person could get covered under it. The interpretation of the law here will largely vary among person to person.
    • Amidst these controversies, the central government issued guidelines in January 2013 and clarified that a police officer may not arrest until he/she has obtained the prior approval from an officer not below the rank of Inspector General of Police in the metropolitan cities or of the Deputy Commissioner/Superintendent of Police at the district level as the case maybe.
    • In a judgement on a batch of writ petitions, Supreme Court pronounced the following verdict "Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2)".

Key Note:
Act before it's too late. It would be advisable to proceed for legal actions if someone is bothering you often in an offensive manner through online mediums like emails, social medias, etc. However, it would also be suggestible if the person is a known person then you should make him/her aware of the legal consequences of these kind of communications and advise him/her not to indulge in such activity in future. Sometimes it's better not to move into legal suit in a hurry. :)