Centre for Internet & Society

It's time to take a closer look at this form of cyber crime in India, writes KV Kurmanath in an article published in the Hindu Business Line on June 4, 2012.

The suicide of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old New Jersey student in 2010, had triggered a strong debate on invasion of privacy in the cyber age.

His roommate, an Indian student, captured the boy kissing another man in their hostel using his web camera.

The boy jumped into a river unable to take the humiliation, when the former tried to circulate the clip. Though the court refused to link the recording with the death, it sentenced the Indian youth to 30 days in prison last month.

What Clementi was subjected to is cyber bullying, argued those who campaigned for the Indian student's deportation.

Along with other cyber crimes, cyber bullying is on the rise in India too. The fledgling cyber police wings in different states are being flooded with complaints of invasion of privacy, blackmail and circulating electronic messages that cause annoyance.

Ms Aparna (name changed) was aghast when a close friend called her up about a nude picture of her being circulated on the web. A quick check pointed the needle of suspicion at a friend who she had just spurned. Angered by her rejection, the boy morphed her picture, checked into her email account and sent it to all the people in the contact list.

After finding Facebook not so amusing, Sujatha (name changed) decided to close her account and discussed this with a few friends too. A few days later, she found both her FB and gmail accounts compromised. She also found obscene pictures posted on the same.

Legal Issues

Incidents like these are growing sharply with poor knowledge among users abut how to protect accounts. Sharing one's passwords with others too is proving dangerous.

Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar, a cyber laws expert at NALSAR University, says the crimes cited above come under the bracket of invasion of privacy.

He says Section 66A in the amended IT Act deals with these crimes. Sending any message (through a computer or a communication device) that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; any communication which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing insult, annoyance, criminal intimidation comes under this section. This crime, he says, is punishable up to three years with a fine.

Prof. Sridhar, who has just completed a book on cyber laws, feels that punishments under the IT Act are insufficient. "They should be read with the Indian Penal Code. This will be an effective method to check cyber crimes," he says.

Prof. Sridhar also represents the Institute of Global Internet Governance and Advocacy (GIGA) at the Law University. GIGA conducts research on the Internet and takes up advocacy and training programmes on Internet Governance.

"We already have anti-voyeurism provisions in the IT Act under Sec. 66E," Mr Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of Centre for Internet and Security, says.

This offence is punishable with ‘imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both.'

Repeated harassment aka cyber bullying can be addressed using the already over-broad provisions under Sec. 66A. Unfortunately this Section goes too far and can be used to censor legitimate speech.

"Security and privacy awareness in India is very poor. It would be very useful if both the government and civil society was more aggressive in awareness raising and triggering change in behaviour. Unfortunately this is a bit like smoking - even though people are aware of the issues - they engage in risky behaviour online," he says.

Lack of Data

Mr.Pavan Duggal, Chairman of Cyber Law Committee and Cyber laws expert, said there is no specific data on cyber crime in India and the data available with the NCRB (National Crimes Records Bureau) of around 900 cases for overall cybercrime is also doubtful.

"The solution is to make cyber laws more strict as current law under IT Act 2000 is a bailable offence with three years imprisonment and a fine," he points out.

"IT Act 2000 has to be re-amended to specific provisions pertaining to cyber bullying. Further, cyber bullying needs to be made a serious offence with minimum five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10 lakh. Unless you have deterrence in law it will be a continuing offence," he observes.

Fortunately, there are some safeguards which can help prevent such acts of cyber offences. In most cases, the acts of bullying or blackmailing are done by someone close to the victims. People should make it a point to keep their Internet identities very safe.

One should not disclose their identities such as passwords or hint questions to anyone – no matter how close they are. Parents should keep an eye on their children who are addicted to the Internet. They should inform and educate their children on the clear and present dangers that lurk on the Net.

They should also teach the importance of respecting others' privacy apart from taking precautions to keep their private space very safe.

(with inputs from Ronendra Singh)

Click to read the original published in the Hindu Business Line. Sunil Abraham is qouted in this article.