The 'Peeping Toms' Of Cyberspace
Advancement in technology has brought with it an increased rate of crimes. Along with the surge in the use and popularity of internet and associated social media networks, there is a rising need to assess the security concerns that are associated with it. The National Crime Records Bureau recorded a steep rise in the number of cases for obscene publication and transmission in electronic form.
Cyber stalking invariably takes the form of acute sexual harassment. A cyber stalker is an individual who persistently follows the victim’s movements across the net. Defined as a man who follows or contacts a woman, despite clear indication of disinterest to such contact by the woman, or monitors the use of internet or electronic communication of a woman, cyber stalking attracts a punishment of 3 years of imprisonment. Cyber stalking primarily includes but is not exclusive to frequent and unwanted behaviour, whereby a person tries to contact someone who feels threatened or harassed because of it.
The laws regulating cyber space and activities attributable to a virtual environment came within the domain of India’s Information Technology Act of 2000 but dealt with only crimes of a financial nature and side-lined interpersonal crimes, like cyberstalking. The Act was further amended in 2008 to absorb a new range of cyber-crimes. Cybercrimes have neither been defined by the IT Act, 2000 nor the IT Amendment Act, 2008 or, for that matter, in any other legislation in India. The Indian Penal Code was amended in 2013 and cyberstalking was declared to be a criminal offence.
Before 2013, there existed no law that explicitly dealt with cyber stalking and online harassment. The Criminal Law Amendment 2013 brought with it provisions pertaining to the pressing issue of cyber stalking. According to section 354(D) of the Indian Penal Code, if an individual follows and attempts to approach a woman to build a relation in spite of the woman’s unwillingness to do so, then he is said to have committed stalking. Further, if anyone keeps track of the activities of a woman in cyberspace, monitors her emails or other electronic correspondence, these acts will be swept under the scope of stalking.
A common practice adopted by stalkers is to create a fake profile of the victim, displaying her pictures, which may be morphed and uploading her personal details and contact information. This kind of harassment was dealt with under Section 66C of the Information Technology Act, pertaining to identity theft. In several instances, stalkers can also persistently send obscene images to the victim via social media platforms. Hacking into the victim’s account and uploading such images too is covered under Section 67 and 67A of the IT Act and Section 292 of the IPC. It will also be brought under Section 43 and 66 of the IT Act. There also lie provisions in the Indian Penal Code which envisages a legal remedy for the offence of cyber stalking. Section 66 E of the IT Act and section 354 C of the Indian Penal Code deal with situations when the stalker circulates obscene photographs of the victim or images captured without the victim’s consent. Even if the picture isn’t shared, the offence of capturing itself is punishable. Section 67B stipulates punishment for the publication or transmission of sexually explicit content depicting children. In cases of cyber stalking of a child under the age of 18, the recently enacted Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 comes into play. It accords a punishment of up to 3 years coupled with fine and can also be invoked when male children are the victims.
There exists a lack of capacity building among law implementation agencies. Cyber stalking suffers from a want of priority in India. In fact, a majority of such cases concludes in acquittal. The general consensus of these crimes being viewed as minor offences is essentially problematic. Statistics evince that cyber-crime convictions are dwindling despite the incidence of such offences sharply rising. Although laws against cyber stalking have come into force, the enforcement of these provisions is where the issue lies. Hardly ever are these cases filed, with a large proportion of them going unreported. Thus, in spite of legal provisions, they are mired with pitfalls. Stigma and prejudices are commonly attached with sexual offences. The anonymity of the stalker makes it cumbersome to track them, especially with the advancement of software that enables them to send un-traceable emails. The key issue with cyber stalking law is that it is unable to cope with the novel and intensive ways in which cyber stalking takes place.
Online freedom and the imminence of respecting an individual’s use of the internet is tantamount and should necessarily be acknowledged as well as appreciated. An indispensable issue of concern to taken into account while framing laws is the safety of personal information and privacy of the citizens.