Cyber Crime: A Curse (A Study with Special Reference to Women)

Champa Devi and Richa Bali

Abstract

Recent era is the advent of numerous technological advancements and internet becomes one of the fastest growing areas of technical infrastructure development. It is the most valuable source of information, providing all the required information and fastest communication. Though technology advancements are considered vital for the progress of any country but at the same time it is becoming the foundation to upsurge the offense rate with technology against the weaker section of the society. With the advancement of internet, the crimes using internet has also widened its roots. Crime occurs in the cyber space known as cyber-crime where computer is used as a tool, a target, as incidental, and as associate. Cyber crime is a global phenomenon and emerging as a challenge for national and economic security. It poses a major threat to the security of individuals; anybody who uses the Internet is at risk for becoming a victim of cyber-crime.

Indeed the crimes against women are on a rise in all fields; Women are also the main victim of this new form of crime. Though in traditional Indian society women occupied a vital role as the Vedas glorified women as the creator one who gives life and to be worshipped as a Devi yet the women are treated inferior to men and a gender biased society is prevailed. Therefore the women are considered to be easy targets for the wrongdoers. Cyber space offers a plethora of opportunities for the cyber criminals to cause harm to women. Being a victim of cybercrime is most traumatic experience for a woman as cyber awareness amongst them is really low. Most of the cybercrimes remain unreported due to social embarrassment and unawareness. In this paper we explore the various Cyber crimes that can be inflicted upon women and the various laws that exist to protect women. 

Introduction

The world of internet provides every user all the required information with fastest communication and sharing tool making it the most valuable source of information. With the numerous advancement of internet, the crime using internet has also widened its roots in all directions. However the increased use of internet has posed a threat in view of the increasing cyber-crimes. Cyber-crime is a global phenomenon and is emerging as a challenge for national and economic security. The growth of the information society is accompanied by new and serious threats. When internet was invented, inventors did not think for its bad behaviour. But the criminal mentality of human psychology started its misuse by using internet as a tool of crime, which gave the birth to “Cyber-crime” and now the world is facing a huge challenge from these cyber criminals.

Crimes are as old as a man himself and computer crimes are as old as computers themselves. The number of internet users has grown exponentially over the last twenty years. Cyber-crimes have become rampant in the cities and the countries. Cyber crime is a term for any illegal activity that uses a computer as its primary means of commission. It is an offence that is committed against individuals or groups of individuals with a criminal motive to intentionally harm the reputation of the victim or cause physical or mental harm to him.

Cyber Crime and Women

 The traditional Indian society places women in a very high regard. The Vedas glorified women as the mother, the creator, and one who gives life and worshipped her as a Devi or Goddess. The women occupied a vital role and as such her subjugation and mistreatment were looked upon as demeaning to not only the woman but towards the whole society.[1] However, in modern times women are viewed and portrayed as sex objects, she is treated inferior to men in various societal spheres and functions, this has created a huge gender bias between the men and women where even the men think that their wrongdoings towards women cannot be penalised.

The expanding reach of computers and the internet has made it easier for people to keep in touch across long distances. However, the means that enable the free flow of information and ideas over long distances also give rise to a worryingly high incidence of irresponsible behaviour. The vulnerability and safety of women is one of the biggest concerns of any criminal and penal law, but unfortunately women are still defenceless in cyber space. Cybercrime against women is on an alarming stage and it may pose a major threat to the security of a person as a whole. In recent years, there have been numerous reports of women receiving unsolicited emails which often contain obscene and obnoxious language. Every second one woman in India gets tricked to be a victim of cyber crimes and the online platform is now the new platform where a woman’s dignity, privacy and security are increasingly being challenged every moment.[2]

The cyber world in itself has a virtual reality where anyone can hide or even fake his identity, this gift of internet is used by the criminally minded to commit wrongful acts and then hide under the blanket provided by the internet. India witnessed growth of cyber crimes and watched helplessly the perpetration of cyber crime against women in particular. Often the laws that were used to combat such crimes set a wrong example and confusion; women victims were hugely discouraged to report the crimes by peers; immediate media attention and the attitude of confused government reporting agencies made women victims more traumatized than they were due to cyber crime meted out to them.[3]

Types of Cyber Crimes

Cyber crimes are against persons, property and Government. Cyber-crimes committed against persons include crimes like transmission of obscene messages, harassment of any one with the use of a computer such as e-mail, cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. The second category of Cyber crimes is that of crimes against organization or all forms of property. These crimes include illegal and unauthorized computer trespassing, and transmission of important and critical information outside the organization which can lead to a great loss to the organization.[4]The third category of Cyber-crimes relate to against Government which includes Cyber Terrorism.

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Types of Cyber Crimes against Women

Amongst the various cyber crimes committed against individuals and society atlarge, crimes that are specifically targeting women are as following:

Cyber Stalking

Cyber Stalking is one of the most widespread internet crimes in the modern world. The word stalking means ‘pursuing stealthily’. Cyber stalking can be used interchangeably with online harassment and online abuse. It is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass a person. Cyber stalking involves following a person’s movements across the Internet by posting messages (sometimes threatening) on the bulletin boards frequented by the victim, entering the chat-rooms frequented by the victim, constantly bombarding the victim with emails etc.) The first conviction in a cyber stalking case against a woman in Maharashtra took place in July 2015 in the case of Yogesh Prabhu v. State of Maharashtra[5]decided by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate M.R. Natu. The magistrate’s court convicted Prabhu under S. 509 IPC (words, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and S. 66E of the Information Technology Act, 2008 (punishment for violation of privacy). This was because the cyber stalking provision- S. 354D of the IPC – was enacted in 2013 and could not be applied retrospectively to a crime committed in 2009.

Ritu Kohli Case was India’s first case of cyber stalking, wherein Mrs. Ritu Kohli complained to police against a person, who was using her identity to chat over the Internet at a website, mostly in Delhi channel for four consecutive days. Mrs. Kohli further complained that the person was chatting on the Net, using her name and giving her address and was talking obscene language. The same person was also deliberately giving her phone number to other chatters encouraging them to call Ritu Kohli at add hours. Consequently, Mrs. Kohli received almost 40 calls in three days mostly on odd hours. The said calls created a havoc in the personal life of the complainant. Consequently an IP address was traced and police investigated the entire matter and ultimately arrested the offender. A case was registered under the section 509 of IPC and thereafter he was released on bail. This was the first time when a case of cyber stalking was reported.

Legal Provisions

Cyber stalking is not covered by the existing cyber laws in India. It is covered only under the ambit of Section 72 of the IT Act that perpetrator can be booked remotely for breach of confidentiality and privacy. After the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 ‘Stalking’ through internet or otherwise is punishable under section 354D (2) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Accused may also be booked under Section 441 of the IPC for criminal trespass and Section 509 of the IPC again for outraging the modesty of women.

  • Harassment via Emails

There is no doubt that email has become one of the most heavily used electronic tools of the last decade. Many people send and receive emails every day. Harassment on the Internet can take place in a number of ways. One form may include Harassment through emails includes blackmailing, threatening, bullying, constant sending of love letters with anonymous names or regular sending of embarrassing mails to one’s mail box.

Legal Provisions     

Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and some sections of IT Act deals with the protection from cyber crime. In general they are used to book the perpetrators along with Section 292A of the IPC, 1860 for printing or publishing grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended to blackmail, and under Section 509 of the IPC for uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman.

  • Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying is the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the internet, deliberately to upset someone else. Cyber bullying is wilful and is a repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones or other electronic devices, by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. Globally, India reportedly ranks third after China and Singapore in cyber bullying.[6]

A case law on cyber bullying is Shreya Singhal v. Union of India[7]. A petition was filed before the Madhya Pradesh High Court for quashing on the basis of a compromise arrived at between the woman and the accused. The High Court refused to quash the proceedings, stating that the offences were against the society at large and a personal compromise between the parties would not affect the continuation of the prosecution. This case indicates that courts treat cyber stalking and cyber bullying as very serious offences.  

  • Email spoofing

Email spoofing is a term used to describe fraudulent email activity in which the sender address and other parts of the email header are altered to appear as though the email originated from a different source; it is done by properties of the email, such as the From, Return-Path and Reply-To fields, ill-intentioned users can make the email appear to be from someone other than the actual sender. This method is often used by cyber criminals to extract personal information and private images from unsuspecting women.The most popular case of cyber spoofing is Gujarat Ambuja’s Executive Case[8], wherein the perpetrator pretended to be a girl for cheating and blackmailing an Abu Dhabi based NRI.

  • Cyber Defamation

The term defamation is used to define the injury that is caused to the reputation of a person in the eyes of a third person. Cyber defamation is publishing of defamatory material against another person with the help of computers or internet. The State of Tamil Nadu v. Suhas Katti[9]is the case related to posting of obscene, defamatory and annoying message about a divorcee woman in the yahoo message group. Emails were also forwarded to the victim for information by the accused through a false email account opened by him in the name of the victim. The posting of the message resulted in annoying phone calls to the lady in the belief that she was soliciting.

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Legal Provisions

According to Section 67 of the IT Act 2000, any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or any communication device any offensive information, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine. Section 500 of IPC mentions punishment for defamation with simple imprisonment that can be extended up to two years or with fine or with both.

The offence of cyber defamation can also be committed by disseminating the image of a women engaging in a private act where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed by anyone. Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as inserted by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 provided the punishment for disseminating such images.

Cyber pornography

It refers to portrayal of sexual material on the web. This is another threat to the females on internet as they never know which action of theirs is being recorded and would later end up on internet.The DPS MMS scandal[10]is a very famous case of this where an MMS clip of a school girl in compromising situation was made and distributed amongst various internet networks. In another incident[11] at Mumbai a Swiss couple gathered slum children and then forced them to appear for obscene photographs, which they took and then uploaded those photographs to websites specially designed for paedophiles. The Mumbai police arrested the couples for pornography. The most recent example is of Delhi Metro CCTV footage leaks case[12], where the CCTV recording couples getting intimate in metro stations etc. which has been recorded by police security cameras has been leaked on internet.

Legal Provisions

Unlike other crimes like Cyber Stalking, Cyber Defamation, Morphing, Email Spoofing, Cyber Pornography is considered an exceptional case which has been covered by the IT Act 2000 to a certain extent by Section 67 of the IT Act 2000. Along with IT Act the perpetrator can be punished under various Sections of IPC (Section 290 for committing public nuisance, section 292 for sale of obscene books etc, and section 292A for printing or publishing grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended to blackmail, section 293 for sale etc of obscene objects to young persons and then section 294 for doing or composing, writing etc of obscene songs and finally under section 509 for outraging the modesty of women).

Morphing

Morphing is editing the original picture by an unauthorized user. When unauthorized user with fake identity downloads victim’s pictures and then uploads or reloads them after editing, it is known as morphing. It was observed that female’s pictures are downloaded from websites by fake users and again reposted/uploaded on different websites by creating fake profiles after editing them.[13] The Air Force Balbharati School case of Delhi[14]is the case comes under this category where a student of the School was teased by all his classmates for having a pockmarked face. He was tired of the cruel jokes, decided to get back at his tormentors and scanned photograph of his classmates and teachers, morphed them with nude photographs and put them up on a website that he uploaded on to a free web hosting service. The father of one of the class girls featured on the website came to know about this and lodged a complaint with the police.

Legal Provisions

This act amounts to violation of I.T. Act, 2000. The violator can also be booked under IPC, also for criminal trespass under Section 441, Section 290 for committing public nuisance, Section 292A for printing or publishing grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended to blackmail and under Section 501 for defamation.

Cyber Crimes and Women- Magnitude in India

The number of social network users in India has increased drastically from 181.7 million in 2015 to 216.5 million in 2016 to a projected 250.8 million in 2017[15]. It is expected that the same would increase to at least 336.7 million by 2020. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, WhatsApp and SnapChat are some of the more popular social networking sites in India. While India’s internet population may be exploding, there is a looming gender imbalance in social network users. This is visible in areas such as the number of internet users, the number of Facebook and Twitterusers, digital literacy and political tweets. A study of internet users in India, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and Retailers Association of India, states that approximately 29% of the users in India are women, while the remaining 71% are men. The disproportionate access of the internet to men and women is a major contributor to this phenomenon and is closely linked to the increasing incidence of cyber-crimes against women. Women users are often seen as ‘invading trespassing’ on the male space, particularly when they articulate their viewpoints on politically sensitive and volatile issues. A 2015 report by Observer Research Foundation indicates a significant under-representation of women in Twitter’s political conversations in India, which mirrors a real world marginalization of women in political processes in India. The report also highlighted that many women users, including prominent bloggers and activists, had deleted their account due to online abuse and harassment of women.

According to the official statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau, Government of India, 9622 cases of cyber-crimes were registered in 2014 and 5752 persons were arrested. In 2015, 11,592 cases were registered – an increase of 20% in registration of cases from the previous year – and 8121 persons were arrested.[16]The NCRB statistics provide no information on the profile of victims; hence no official statistics are available in India to inform us of the extent and forms of cyber-crimes against women.[17]The official statistics are complemented by a research which was conducted in India in 2016 including analysis of media reports involving online harassment of high profile women, a survey of 500 social media users and interviews with ten of the respondents, combining quantitative and qualitative methods of research.[18]The key findings of this study pertaining to awareness and accessibility of the law included the following:

  1. 30% of the respondents said they were not aware of laws to protect them from online harassment; and
  2. Only a third of respondents had reported harassment to law enforcement; among them, 38 percent characterized the response as “not at all helpful.”
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Remedies

Some remedies are suggested for the prevention of cyber crimes, which are as follows:

  1. Don’t share passwords: You may have shared your password with a trusted friend or partner. According to the Norton Cyber Crime Report, two in three people believe it’s riskier to share their email password with a friend than lend them their car. While friends may not intentionally cause you harm, they may accidentally reveal your password to someone.
  2.  Don’t leave your webcam connected: There are too many apps capable of turning on your camera and slyly recording your movements without your knowledge.
  3.  Don’t share more than necessary: Relationships have only two shades in a spectrum – very good or very bad. Even the best of people can swing from one end of the spectrum to the other.
  4. Don’t meet online acquaintances alone: Always let your friends and family know where you are going and who you are meeting.
  5. Reveal only as much as needed: There are too many sinister characters browsing social media sites to initiate friendship with unsuspecting women.
  6. Update all operating systems on your devices: They can be a nuisance, but they are very important to keep you safe.
  7. Secure your devices with anti-virus software: Having a mobile phone or a tablet without a security system in place is like sitting in a house with the doors unlocked. 
  8. Read the fine print: Know and understand the privacy policy and terms of service of any service you use. Some websites can own, sell, rent or resell your information to anyone they want. 
  9. Block people you don’t want to interact with: Never feel weird declining friend requests from people you barely know. Trust your instinct and ignore, unfriend or block them.
  10. Reporting a cyber crime: The procedure for reporting cyber crimes is more or less the same as for reporting any other kind of offence. The local police stations can be approached for filing complaints just as the cybercrime cells specially designated with the jurisdiction to register complaint. In addition, provisions have now been made for filing of ‘E-FIR’ in most of the states.
  11. The woman or the young girl who falls prey to cyber victimization should first contact a women assistance cell or NGO (such as All India Women’s Conference, Sakshi, Navjyoti, Centre for cyber victims counselling) which can assist and guide them through the process.
  12.  Legislation needs to make stricter regulation for cyber cafes, who should keep a record of their customers who utilize their internet services.
  13. People need to be cautious over which parts of their daily lives are being recorded by cameras & should act modest in such times. Awareness over cyber culture and its back draws also need to be improved amongst people.

Conclusion

Cyber crime has emerged as a major challenge for law enforcement agencies in the country. The police and the government, both at the state and the central level, have their parts to play, but these crimes will go down only when legal steps are accompanied with awareness drives to bring about a shift in the mentality of the society at large. It is important to acknowledge that law does not have thepotential to provide all solutions to the issue of cyber crimesagainst women in India. Women themselves should be trained totake preventive measures, such as caution in posting their andtheir loved ones photographs and video clips online, caution incommunicating with strangers online, and protecting passwordsand other vital information which may compromise with thewoman’s security and privacy. Unless the root cause is addressed through long term, multiprongedmeasures and sustained efforts, dealing with the manifestations through legal/social and political processes would provide only a temporary and superficial solution.


[1] Rajat Misra, Cyber Crime Against Women (November 18, 2019), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2486125 .

[2] Dhruti M Kapadia, Cyber Crimes against Women and Laws In India (21 Nov 2018, 11:36AM) https://www.livelaw.in/cyber-crimes-against-women-and-laws-in-India.

[3] Debarati Halder, K. Jaishankar, Cyber Crime and the Victimization of Women: Laws, Rights and Regulations. (1st ed. IGI Global, 2011).

[4] Nidhi Agarwal & Dr. Neeraj Kasuhik, Cyber Crimes Against Women, GJRIM Vol.4, No.1, 38 (2014).

[5] Prasanto K Roy, Why online harassment goes unpunished in India, 17 July 2015 (13 May, 2017, 4.30 PM), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india- 33532706.

[6] T.E. Raja Simhan, India Ranks Third in Cyber Bullying, Business Line, June 26, 2012.

[7] Shreya Singhal v. Union of India AIR 2015 SC 1523.

[8] India Forensic, Case of Cyber Extortion, (November 18, 2019) http://www.indiaforensic.com/cyberextortion.htm .

[9] Naavi, Chennai Cyber Crime Cell gets its first case in record time, (November 18, 2019) http://www.naavi.org/cl_editorial_04/suhas_katti_case.htm .

[10] DPS MMS Scandal, (November 18, 2019) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DPS_MMS_Scandal .

[11] G. Rathinasabapathy and L. Rajendran, Cyber Crimes and Information Frauds: Emerging Challenges For  LIS Professionals, Conference on Recent Advances in Science & Technology (2007).

[12] Porn MMSes from Delhi Metro CCTV footage! http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/porn-mmses-from-delhi-metro-cctv-footage_860933.html (2013).

[13] Cyber Crimes Involving Morphed PhotosRising, The Times Of India, June 29, 2015.

[14] Abhimanyu Behera, Cyber Crimes and Law In India,” XXXI, IJCC 19 (2010).

[15] Sanika Diwanji, Number of Social Network Users in India from 2015 to 2021(March 15, 2017, 11.04 AM), https://www.statista.com/statistics/278407/number-of-socialnetwork- users-in-india/.

[16] Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Crime in India, 18 Cyber Crimes 164 (2015).

[17] Ms. Saumya Uma, Outlawing Cyber Crimes Against Women in India, Bharati Law Review, 105 (2017).

[18] Japleen Pasricha Violence Online in India: Cybercrimes Against Women and Minorities on Social Media, FEMINISM IN INDIA (13 May, 2017,12.30PM),

https://feminisminindia.com/2016/11/15/cyber violence-against-womenindia-report/.