Apply only IT Act in cases of data theft: Bombay High Court

Mumbai: Any person accused of stealing data or information from a computer, cannot be prosecuted under both Indian Penal Code (IPC) and information Technology (IT) act, said Bombay High Court recently. The HC ruled, in such circumstances, only the provisions of IT act must be invoked against the accused, since it is a special enactment.

The division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre said, “We are specifically of the opinion, it is not permissible to merely undergo the rigmarole of investigation. It is not open for the investigating officer to invoke and apply provisions of the IPC, in light of the specific provisions contained in the IT act, 2000. Also, it cannot be left upon the discretion of police authorities to decide in which direction the investigation is to be proceeded.”

“The IT act being a special enactment, it requires an able investigation keeping in mind the purpose of the legislation and to nab the new venturing of crimes with assistance of technology,” the bench observed.  The judges accordingly quashed a First Information Report (FIR) registered against two men, accused of stealing data and software pertaining to hospital management and selling the same to different clients. An engineer and a software developer, two accused, had breached the rules of a software developing company, which registered an FIR against them.

Kolhapur police, while registering this FIR, invoked provisions of both IT act and IPC — pertaining to dishonestly and fraudulently stealing data from the computers. The accused challenged this double prosecution launched by the police. The prosecution, on the other hand, maintained that it was legal to invoke both the statutes. It even argued. provisions to be applied, can be decided at the time when the court would frame charges against the accused. The judges, however, trashed this argument and quashed the FIR against the duo, wherein the police had invoked provisions of the IPC.

The court, however, maintained, the police can probe the case under the IT act. “If the special enactment in form of the IT act contains a special mechanism to deal with the offences falling within its purview. Thus, prosecuting the petitioners under both the IPC and the IT act would be a brazen violation of protection against double jeopardy,” the judgment authored by Justice Dangre reads.

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