Centre for Internet & Society

Tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies are a regular feature of the Indian judicial system, as they provide for easier and less onerous methods for dispute resolution, especially disputes which relate to technical areas and often require technical knowledge and familiarity with specialised factual scenarios.

Further, quasi-judicial bodies do not have the same procedural restrictions as proper courts, which makes the adjudication of disputes easier. The Information Technology Act of India, which regulates several important aspects of electronic information, including the regulation of private electronic transactions as well as detailing civil and criminal offences relating to computers and electronic information, contemplates a specialised dispute resolution mechanism for disputes relating to the offences detailed under the Act. The Act provides for the establishment of quasi-judicial bodies, namely adjudicating officers under S.46, to hear disputes arising out of Chapter IX of the Act, namely, offences of a civil nature under S.43, 43A, 44 and 45 of the Act, as well as criminal offences described under Chapter XI of the Act. The adjudicating officer has the power to both award compensation as damages in a civil remedy, as well as impose penalties for the contravention of the Act,[1] and therefore has powers of both civil and criminal courts. The first appellate body provided in the Act, i.e. the authority that any party not satisfied by the decision of the adjudicating officer can appeal to, is the Cyber Appellate Tribunal, consisting of a Chairperson and any other members so prescribed by the Central Government.[2] The second appeal, if a party is aggrieved by the decision of the Cyber Appellate Tribunal, may be filed before the High Court having jurisdiction, within 60 days from the date of communication of the order.[3]

Functioning of the Offices of the State Adjudicating Officers and the Cyber Appellate Tribunal

The office of the adjudicating officer is established under S.46 of the IT Act, which provides that the person appointed to such a post must be a government officer of a rank not below that of a Director or an equivalent rank, and must have experience both in the field of Information Technology as well as legal or judicial experience.[4] In most cases, the appointed adjudicating officer is the Principle Secretary to the Department of Information Technology in the state.[5] The decisions of these adjudicating officers determine the scope and meaning of several provisions of the IT Act, and are instrumental in the development of the law in this field and filling a lacuna regarding the interpretation of these important provisions, particularly in areas such as data protection and privacy.[6] However, despite the large number of cyber-crime cases being registered across the country,[7] there is a lack of available judgements on the adjudication of disputes under Sections 43, 43A, 44 and 45 of the Act. Of all the states, only the websites of the Departments of Information Technology in Maharashtra,[8], Tamil Nadu[9], New Delhi[10], and Haryana[11] have reported judgements or orders of the Adjudicating Officers.  The adjudicating officer in Maharasthra, Rajesh Aggarwal, has done a particularly commendable job, having disposed of 51 cases under the IT Act, with 20 cases still pending.

The first Cyber Appellate Tribunal set up by the Central Government is located at New Delhi. Although a second branch of the Tribunal was to be set up in Bangalore, no efforts seem to have been made in this regard.[12] Further, the position of the Chairperson of the Appellate Tribunal, has been left vacant since 2011, after the appointed Chairperson attained the age of superannuation and retired. Although judicial and technical members have been appointed at various points, the tribunal cannot hold hearings without a chairperson. A total of 17 judgements have been passed by the Cyber Appellate Tribunal prior to the retirement of the chairperson, while the backlog of cases is continuously growing.[13] Despite a writ petition being filed before the Karnataka High Court and the secretary of the Department of IT coming on record to state that the Chairperson would be appointed within 6 months (of September 2013), no action seems to have been taken in this regard, and the lacunae in the judicial mechanism under the IT Act continues. The proper functioning of adjudicating officers and the Cyber Appellate Tribunal is particularly necessary for the functioning of a just judicial system in light of the provisions of the Act (namely, Section 61) which bar the jurisdiction of ordinary civil courts in claims below the amount of Rs. 5 Crores, where the adjudicating officer or the CAT is empowered.[14]

Analysis of Cases Filed under Section 43A

Section 43A of the Information Technology Act was inserted by the 2008 Amendment, and is the principle provision governing protection of information held by intermediaries under the Act. Section 43A provides that “body corporates” handling “sensitive personal data” must implement reasonable security practices for the protection of this information. If it is negligent in providing or maintaining such reasonable security practices, the body corporate is to be held liable and must pay compensation for the loss occurred.[15] Rule 3 of the Draft Reasonable Security Practices Rules, defines sensitive personal data as including – passwords, user details as provided at the time of registration or thereafter, information related to financial information such as Bank account/ credit card /debit card /other payment instrument details of the users, physiological and mental health conditions, medical records and history, biometric information, information received by body corporate for processing, stored or processed under lawful contract or otherwise and call data records.[16]

All the decisions of appointed adjudicators are available for an analysis of Section 43A are from the adjudicating officer in Maharashtra, Mr. Rajesh Tandon, who despite having no judicial experience, has very cogent analysis and knowledge of legal issues involved in the cases, which is commendable for a quasi-judicial officer.

One class of cases, constituting a major chunk of the claims, is where the complainant is claiming against a bank for the fraudulent transfer of funds from the claimants account to another account. In most of these cases, the adjudicating officer examined the compliance of the bank with “Know Your Customer” norms and guidelines framed by the Reserve Bank of India for prevention of banking fraud and, where such compliance was found to be lacking and information which allowed the bank accounts of the complainant was allowed to be accessed by fraudsters, the presumption is that the bank was negligent in the handling of “sensitive personal information”,[17] by failing to provide for reasonable security practices and consequently was liable for compensation under S.43A, notwithstanding that the complainant also contributed to compromising certain personal information by responding to phishing mails,[18] or divulging information to other third parties.[19] These instances clearly fall within the scope of Section 43A, which protects “information related to financial information such as Bank account/ credit card /debit card /other payment instrument details of the users” as sensitive personal data from negligent handling by body corporates. The decisions of the adjudicating officer must be applauded for placing a higher duty of care on banks to protect informational privacy of its customers, given that they are in a position where they ought to be well equipped to deal with intimate financial information and holding them accountable for lack of proper mechanisms to counter bank fraud using stolen information, which reflects in the compensation which the banks have been liable to pay, not only as indemnification for losses, but also punitive damages.[20]

In Nirmalkumar Bhagerwal v IDBI Bank and Meenal Bhagerwal, the sensitive financial information of the complainant, namely, the bank statement, had been accessed by the complainants wife. In holding the bank to be liable for divulging the same, and that access to personal information by a spouse is also covered under S.43A, the officer seems to have imputed the loss of privacy on account of such negligence as ‘wrongful loss’ which deserves compensation. One anomalous decision of the officer was where the operator of an ATM was held liable for fraudulent credit card transactions in that Machine, due to “reasonable security practices” such as security personnel or CCTV footage, and therefore causing the loss of “sensitive personal data”. However, it is difficult to see how ATM operators can be held liable for failing to protect sensitive information from being divulged, when the case is simply of a person fraudulently using a credit card.

Another class of cases, generally linked with the above cases, is complaints against cell phone providers for divulging information through falsely procured Sim Cards. In such instances, the officer has held that by negligently allowing the issuance of duplicate sim cards, the phone company has led to the access of sensitive personal data and thus caused wrongful loss to the complainant. This interpretation of Section 43A is somewhat confusing. The officer seems to have interpreted the provisions of Section 43A to include carriers of the information which was originally sent through the computer resource of the banking companies. In this way, they are imputed the status of “handlers” of sensitive personal information, and their communications infrastructure through which the information is sent is the “computer resource” which it operates for the purpose of the Act. Therefore, through their negligence, they are abetting the offence under 43A.[21]

For example, in the case of Sanjay Govind Dhandhe v ICICI and Vodafone, the officer remarked that –“A SIM card is a veritable key to person’s sensitive financial and personal information. Realizing this, there are clear guidelines issued by the DOT regarding the issuance of SIM cards. The IT Act also intends to ensure that electronic personal and sensitive data is kept secured and reasonable measures are used to maintain its confidentiality and integrity. It is extremely crucial that Telecom companies actively follow strict security procedures while issuing SIM cards, especially in wake of the fact that mobiles are being increasingly used to undertake financial transactions. In many a case brought before me, financial frauds have been committed by fraudsters using the registered mobile numbers of the banks’ account holders.” Therefore, intermediaries such as telecom companies, which peripherally handle the data, are also liable under the same standards for ensuring its privacy. The adjudicating officer has also held telephone companies liable for itemized phone bills as Call Data Records negligently divulged by them, which again clearly falls under the scope of the Reasonable Security Practices Rules.[22]


"Credentek v Insolutions (http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_Credentek_Vs_Insolutions-28012014.pdf) . This case holds that banks and the National Payments Corporation of India were liable under S. 43A for divulging information relating to transactions by their customers to a software company which provides services to these banks using the data, without first making them sign non-disclosure agreements. The NCPI was fined a nominal amount of Rs. 10,000."

[1]. Section 46, Information Technology Act, 2000.

[2]. Section 48 and 49 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (Amended as of 2008).

[3]. Section 62, IT Act. However, The High Court may extend this period if there was sufficient cause for the delay.

[4]. S. 46(3), Information Technology Act, “No person shall be appointed as an adjudicating officer unless he possesses such experience in the field of Information Technology and Legal or Judicial experience as may be prescribed by the Central Government.”

[5]. From whatever data is available, the adjudicating officers in the states of Maharashtra, New Delhi, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are all secretaries to the respective state departments relating to IT.

[6]. See http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/analysis-of-cases-filed-under-sec-48-it-act-for-adjudication-maharashtra; Also see the decision of the Karnataka adjudicating officer which held that body corporates are not persons under S.43 of the IT Act, and thus cannot be liable for compensation or even criminal action for offences under that Section, available at http://www.naavi.org/cl_editorial_13/adjudication_gpl_mnv.pdf.

[7]. Maharashtra Leads in War Against Cyber Crime, The Times of India, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Maharashtra-leads-in-war-against-cyber-crime/articleshow/30579310.cms. (18th February, 2014).

[8]. https://it.maharashtra.gov.in/1089/IT-Act-Judgements

[9]. http://www.tn.gov.in/documents/atoz/J

[10]. http://www.delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/DoIT_IT/doit_it/it+home/orders+of+adjudicating+officer

[11]. http://haryanait.gov.in/cyber.htm

[12]. Bangalore Likely to host southern chapter of Cyber Appellate Tribunal, The Hinduk http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/bangalore-is-likely-to-host-southern-chapter-of-cyber-appellate-tribunal/article3381091.ece (2nd May, 2013).

[13]. http://catindia.gov.in/Judgement.aspx

[14]. Section 61 of the IT Act – ‘No court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of any matter which an adjudicating officer appointed under this Act or the Cyber Appellate Tribunal constituted under this Act is empowered by or under this Act to determine and no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority in respect of any action taken or to be taken in pursuance of any power conferred by or under this Act. Provided that the court may exercise jurisdiction in cases where the claim for injury or damage suffered by any person exceeds the maximum amount which can be awarded under this Chapter.

[15]. Section 43A, Information Technology Act, 2000 – ‘Compensation for failure to protect data (Inserted vide ITAA 2006) Where a body corporate, possessing, dealing or handling any sensitive personal data or information in a computer resource which it owns, controls or operates, is negligent in implementing and maintaining reasonable security practices and procedures and thereby causes wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person, such body corporate shall be liable to pay damages by way of compensation, to the person so affected. (Change vide ITAA 2008)

Explanation: For the purposes of this section (i) "body corporate" means any company and includes a firm, sole proprietorship or other association of individuals engaged in commercial or professional activities (ii) "reasonable security practices and procedures" means security practices and procedures designed to protect such information from unauthorized access, damage, use, modification, disclosure or impairment, as may be specified in an agreement between the parties or as may be specified in any law for the time being in force and in the absence of such agreement or any law, such reasonable security practices and procedures, as may be prescribed by the Central Government in consultation with such professional bodies or associations as it may deem fit. (iii) "sensitive personal data or information" means such personal information as may be prescribed by the Central Government in consultation with such professional bodies or associations as it may deem fit.

[16]. Draft Reasonable Security Practices Rules under Section 43A of the IT Act, available at http://www.huntonfiles.com/files/webupload/PrivacyLaw_Reasonable_Security_Practices_Sensitive_Personal_Information.pdf.

[17]. Ravindra Gunale v Bank of Maharashtra, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_RavindraGunale_Vs_BoM&Vodafone_20022013.PDF. Ram Techno Pack v State Bank of India, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_RamTechno_Vs_SBI-22022013.pdf.

Srinivas Signs v IDBI, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_SreenivasSigns_Vs_IDBI-18022014.PDF.

Raju Dada Raut v ICICI Bank, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_RajuDadaRaut_Vs_ICICIBank-13022013.pdf

Pravin Parkhi v SBI Cards, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_PravinParkhi_Vs_SBICardsPayment-30122013.PDF.

[18]. Sourabh Jain v ICICI, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_SourabhJain_Vs_ICICI&Idea-22022013.PDF.

[19]. Poona Automobiles v Punjab National Bank, https://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_PoonaAuto_Vs_PNB-22022013.PDF

[20]. Amit Patwardhan v Bank of Baroda, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudicaton_AmitPatwardhan_Vs_BankOfBaroda-30122013.PDF.

[21]. Ravindra Gunale v Bank of Maharashtra, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_RavindraGunale_Vs_BoM&Vodafone_20022013; Raju Dada Raut v ICICI Bank, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_RajuDadaRaut_Vs_ICICIBank-13022013.pdf.

[22]. Rohit Maheshwari v Vodafone, http://it.maharashtra.gov.in/Site/Upload/ACT/DIT_Adjudication_RohitMaheshwari_Vs_Vodafone&ors-04022014.PDF.

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