India mulls lighter penalties for teen, first-time Web offenders

The government is considering a graded response that involves lighter penalties, as current penalties under the IT Act could be too harsh for youths who may unwittingly commit cybercrimes without malicious intent.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

The Indian government is considering a graded response to cybercrimes involving teens and first-time Internet offenders, due to their young age and that they may unwittingly committing cybercrimes without realizing the gravity of their actions.

The Times of India reported Monday that the graded response would involve a warning and parental guidance for first-time offenders, rather than invoking penal action under the Information Technology Act (IT Act).

Citing informed sources, the report said the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) was instrumental in mooting the idea of a softer, more lenient response to Internet crimes. The sources added that the proposal for a graded response system is going through preliminary intra-ministerial discussions, and may go through several refinements, as coordinated by the Home Ministry and IT department, before it is finalized.

"As of now, the only clarity is that a first-time offender will be dealt lightly through non-punitive remedies like warning, counseling and parental guidance. It is only where these approaches fail, an FIR (first information report) will be registered," said a source. An FIR is a written document prepared by the police in which information about the commission of a crime is recorded.

The Times of India said the news reflects the government's realization that the IT Act could be too harsh on youth offenders who may unwittingly commit cybercrimes such as circulating objectionable content online, and did not have malicious intent.

Under the IT Act, uploading and disseminating objectionable, sexually explicit and communally sensitive content--such as messages, images and video--carries a maximum penalty of seven years. The quantum of the punishment is decided by the courts but many feel that having legal proceedings exposes a youth or first-time offender to social stigma and also affects his studies or career, the report added.

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