Our Statement on Liability of WhatsApp group Admins
The advisory issued by the Office of Special Inspector General of Police, Maharashtra Cyber has warned that admins of WhatsApp groups along with users could be punished for objectionable content posted on WhatsApp groups. The advisory has cited various provisions of IPC including Sections 153 A, 153B, 295A, 505 and 188 of Indian penal Code, Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act, 951 and Section 144 and Section 144(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. It has been reported in media that this and other orders by various district authorities have led to many admins changing settings of groups so that only the administrators can post messages in groups. During the lock-down when people are confined to their homes, messaging platforms like WhatsApp provide a means to stay in touch with their near and dear ones. A WhatsApp group admin has only a limited power to add members to a group or to remove them. He does not have any power to moderate or to censor messages in a group. While it is important to curb misinformation, imposing illegal restrictions on admins may not be the best way to achieve this.
It goes against basic principles of criminal law to hold an admin liable for a post published by some one else in the group. A WhatsApp admin cannot be considered to be an intermediary under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and there cannot be a case of secondary liability against her. We urge the authorities to ensure that there is no chilling effect on free speech caused while coming up with measures to prevent spread of misinformation.