Computer has been defined under section 2 (i) of the IT Act. The Act provides a very comprehensive and scalable definition of the term “computer”. It Identifies the key ‘legal components’ of the term computer along with certain inclusions specified under the definition. The definition can be broken down into the following:
- Any electronic, magnetic, optical or other high-speed data processing device or system,
- Performs logical, arithmetic and memory functions, and
- By manipulating electronic, magnetic or optical impulses;
and includes all input, output processing, storage, computer software or communication facilities which are connected or related to the computer in a computer system or computer network. The requirement under the Act is memory function manipulation; it is not specified whether it is Read Only Memory or Read/Write Memory.
The aforementioned definition does not quantify the high speed. Computer has been defined as a device or system performing logical, arithmetic and memory functions. In fact, this is one of the most critical aspects, whether a particular machine is capable of performing logical, arithmetic and memory functions. If it is, then the said ‘machine’ may be referred to as a ‘computer as defined in the Act. This definition is in fact the cornerstone of the Act, as almost all the important provisions talk about computer and its application in one form or the other
In the case of Whirlpool Of India Ltd v. Videocon Industries Ltd. (Appeal (L) No. 554/2012; Bombay High Court) a question came before the court which was whether a washing machine could be considered as a computer. It was observed by the Hon’ble High court that a washing machine with a fuzzy logic system would now be accepted as a computer, if it can be proved that it performs an arithmetic function too. By arithmetic function one means an ability to perform functions like addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. In order to perform these functions, one must be able to write into memo by and get an answer which is not possible in a fuzzy logic. In this case the washing machine had only read only memory and therefore, calculators which are not programmable, have been excluded from the scope of the definition of computer system.
In the case of Syed Asifuddin v. State of Andhra Pradesh [2005 CriLJ 4314], Reliance Infocomm launched a scheme under which a cell phone subscriber was offered a digital handset worth Rs. 10,500 and a service bundle for three years with an initial payment of Rs. 3350 and monthly outflow of Rs. 600. The scheme was a conditional scheme as the handset was technologically locked in a manner that it would work only with the Reliance Info comm services. Subsequent to the launch of the scheme, some unidentified persons contacted Reliance customers with an offer to change to a lower priced Tata Indicom scheme. As part of the deal, Tata Indicom would technologically “unlock” the phone of the subscriber so that the exclusive Reliance handsets could be used for the Tata Indicom service. When the Reliance officials came to know about this ‘unlocking’ by Tata employees, the company lodged a FIR under various provisions of the IPC, IT Act and the Copyright Act. One of the issues of this case was whether a telephone handset is a computer or a computer system containing a computer programme. It was held that It was held that a cell phone was a computer as envisaged under the Information Technology Act and tampering with the source code invokes Section 65 of the Act. The reason for the conclusion was that handset had features which could perform arithmetic function. After the judicial precedents it has been held that any electronic machine which can do arithmetic function is a computer. Electronic machines which have fuzzy logic or read only memory and which have no ability to perform arithmetic machine, it is not a computer.