We all know that cybercrime is a growing problem in the computer age. According to Section 65 of the Indian IT Act, a person who intentionally conceals or destroys or alters or intentionally or knowingly causes another to conceal, destroy or alter any computer source code used for a computer, computer program, computer system or network when the computer source code is required to be maintained by law is punishable with imprisonment up to 3 years or with fine that may extend up to 2 lakh Rupees or with both. ‘Computer source code’ means the listing of programs, computer commands, designs and layout and program analysis or computer resource in any form. The research paper is a significant contribution to the socio-legal research on online crimes targeting teenage girls and women. Expeditious development in technology is used as a resource by most of the offenders who target to defame women by sending lewd messages, e-mailing, stalking and worst of all developing pornographic videos, morphing of images for pornographic content by using various softwares available online. It shows how they become soft targets of online trolling, privacy infringement, bullying, pornography, sexual defamation where a woman’s dignity, privacy and security is increasingly being challenged every moment. The paper helps in finding out the various ways such as how women can be protected from cyber crime, what steps can be taken as prevention and as recourse to legal aid and how useful and accessible cyber laws are in the country and the reasons why we should protect our personal data and why it’s important to have a robust system in place to regulate it. Despite the fact that wrongdoing against women is on an ascent in all fields, being a casualty of cybercrime could be most awful experience for a women. Government should focus on the legal aspect not only by discussing what laws would be applicable for different crimes, but also the legal gaps in covering the crime like revenge porn and trolling. Now is the time to vindicate that our women are safe in cyber world, the reminder to stop buffaloing activities on internet access as it is an offence and women take pique from it.
Technology is a queer thing; it brings you gift with one hand and it stabs you with other2. The digital age is benefiting billions across the world, in immeasurable ways, but there is an ominous flip side: our technology can be turned against us, as technology knows no physical boundaries. We all are aware that today’s criminals can steal identities, drain bank accounts and wash out computer servers, but it’s just the beginning. Cybercrime is the most prevalent crime in modern world. Computer has proved to be the greatest invention to mankind, but3 till date no computer has been created that could not be hacked. Cyberspace is a platform where everyone or anyone can express themselves by putting their own ideas or opinion. In the context of cyberspace, privacy means using it as a service tool where everyone can exercise their freedom rights for private purposes without the fear of third parties invading and accessing personal data by any means without their consent. But, cyberspace cannot guarantee this privacy. One who violates the privacy of an individual can be prosecuted under Information Technology Act4. Cyber attacks have rained down all over the world. When it comes to the question of conflicting interests between the freedom of individuals on one hand and social welfare on the other, the only way out to it is to play an effective functional role of harmonizing and striking the balance between both. Cyber related risks are a global threat of bloodless war. India can work towards giving world a shield from the threat of cyber warfare5. We do not have any precise definition of cyber crime; however there are few general definitions of term cyber crime:
The oxford Dictionary defined the term cyber crime as “Criminal activities carried out by means of computers or the Internet”6.
At the Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, United Nations’ defined cybercrime by splitting it into two categories7:
- Cybercrime in a narrow sense (computer crime): any illegal behaviour directed by means of electronic operations that targets the security of computer systems and the data processed by them.
- Cybercrime in a broader sense (computer related crime): any illegal behaviour committed by means of, or in relation to, a computer system or network, including such crimes as illegal possession[and]offering or disturbing information by means of a computer system or network.
Cyber Crime against Women in India
Indian Constitution gives equal status to women by according upon them the right to equality under Article 14. Nevertheless, the status of equality has been still a myth to millions of women in the country. Even today, they are victims of various forms of violence and harassment within the houses, in the educational field and at work places. Further, with the advent of technology, cyber crime against women is on at alarming stage. The victimization of women has increased and is causing a major threat to the security of a person as a whole. In India, the term “cyber crime against women” includes sexual abuse, defamation, and sexual harassment on the internet. Online platform is now the new platform for individuals or groups of individuals with a criminal motive to intentionally harm the reputation of the victim or cause physical or mental harassment to the victim directly or indirectly. Hence women are easily being targeted and at every moment women’s dignity, privacy and security are increasingly being challenged. This paper attempts to address the gravity of cyber crime as a gross violation of women’s liberty and freedom. Stalking, trolling, sexual abusing, voyeurism, defaming, sexually harassing, surveillance, threatening, revenge porn, body-shaming and other forms of lascivious representation of women are ubiquitous in the cyber world. In cyber crimes against women the harm is more mental than physical while the focus of the laws ensuring women’s security is more on physical than mental harm.
Cyber stalking is a cyber crime where an individual is harassed, threatened or frightened by use of web or electronic devices such as mobiles, laptops or social networking sites. Cyber stalking has become very common in society where the privacy of an individual is overrun and their each and every movement is watched. It is a form of a nuisance which disturbs the life of victims and leaves them to a traumatised life. Women, especially, teenagers are being stalked by cyber stalkers by making false accusations, emails, lewd messages, phone calls. It is assumed that over 80% of the victims of cybercrime are females. Ritu Kohli Case8 was India’s first case that was reported under cyber stalking. In this case Mrs. Ritu Kohli complained to police against a person who used to chat on an internet website under the name of Mrs. Ritu Kohli. During interrogation, she, reportedly told the police that he used to chat under Mrs Kohli’s identity and give Mrs. Kohli’s telephone number to other chatters encouraging them to call Mrs Ritu Kohli and was talking obscene language. Consequently, Mrs. Kohli received almost 40 calls in three days mostly on odd hours. The said calls created havoc in her personal life. Consequently IP addresses were 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.
Cyber defamation occurs when with the help of computers and internet someone publishes derogatory or defamatory information to all the friends of that person, or the perpetrator posts defaming stories about the victim. Although this can happen to both genders, but women are more vulnerable. The punishment for defamation is well explained under Section 500 in the Indian penal code, 18609 which mentions whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. The very first case of cyber defamation in India was recorded in the case of SMC Pneumatics (India) Pvt. Ltd. v. Jogesh Kwatra 10. Cyber defamation was reported when a company’s employee Jogesh Kwatra (defendant) started sending anonymous and frequent derogatory, defamatory and obscene and abusive emails about its Managing Director to many of their business associates to tarnish the image and goodwill of the plaintiff’s company. The plaintiff was able to identify the defendant with the help of a private computer expert and moved to Delhi High Court. The court granted an ad-interim injunction and restrained Jogesh Kwatra from sending, publishing and transmitting emails, which are defamatory or derogatory to the plaintiff.
The term pornography means any material that depicts erotic behaviour and is intended to cause sexual excitement11. We all are aware of the fact that mere downloading, viewing or having possession of pornographic content does not amount to any offense in India. But publication of cyber pornography is an offense. According to the 2016 report12, India is now the 4th largest consumer of porn worldwide, coming behind United States of America, United Kingdom and Canada. For instance, the report says 70% of students who were surveyed had watched porn from the age of 10 years13.
It may be showcased in various media such as books, magazines, photography, sound recording, film, and video. In the light of various issues raised regarding the excessive use and exploitation of such explicit pornographic content on the internet, the Supreme Court observed that appropriate steps must be taken against such websites containing pornography. In many parts of the world pornography has been banned whereas, in India it is not banned but it has not been legalised too. Section 67 of Information Technology act 200014 says that whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees. The DPS MMS scandal case15 is a very famous case of cyber pornography where a student of IIT Kharagpur Ravi Raj allegedly sold an obscene MMS video clip to the owner of the website baazee.com Avnish Bajaj which was removed later.
Cyber bullying means the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.16 Cyber bullying is a huge problem worldwide and affects a major proportion of the adolescent population. Cyber bullying as an act can happen to anyone and the bully can act anonymously if they want, or out in the open if they feel they cannot be criticised. While face-to-face bullying mostly happens at school or colleges, often in front of witnesses, cyber bullying happens while the victims are in their own homes, while the space that is safe for them becomes unsafe. Cyber bullying has also been linked to suicide. Cyber bullying is strongly related to depression and depression is somewhere associated with suicide attempts. In The United States v Lori drew (2006)17 is one of the examples of cyberbullying. In this case where a 13 year old girl named Megan received a message on Internet, “the world would be better off without you” and she took it to her heart. She had never met the person who sent her this message and only after twenty minutes she hung herself in her closet and died. The story turned to be more terrific when it was found that Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan’s former friends, had created the fake account with her daughter, who was arrested in 2008 for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act but unfortunately was acquitted in 2009.
The term hacker is a ‘clever programmer’ who uses his skills in a constructive and positive manner. The actual word for cyber criminal is not hacker but cracker. Hacking is an unauthorised access to the information system or network. Sometimes, hackers are hired to help government to protect national documents or files, help organizations to protect data for various purposes and even sometimes help justice to meet its end by extracting electronic evidence. Here, mens rea plays a very crucial part. The question is whether it is being done with malicious intention or not, because hacking is just breaking codes in an unauthorized manner and the people of illegal programming community are called crackers. Today also there are many people who misinterpret hacking with cracking and end up giving negative connotation to hacking. Cracking is an invasion into the private data of people without their consent with malicious intention. It mostly happens on social networking sites to demean a woman by changing her profile into a derogatory one. However, some social networking sites like Orkut, facebook, instagram have the option of reporting profiles as bogus using certain special tools for reporting. Still, many women are kept in dark, when their email IDs or even websites are hacked.
Ankit Fadia, who is a great mastermind of India in the field of ‘Hacking’, has said:
“Traditionally, hackers were computer geeks who knew almost everything about computers and were widely respected for their wide array of knowledge. But over the years, the reputation of hackers has been steadily going down. Today, they are feared by most people and are looked upon as icons representing the underground community of our population.”
Cyber crimes against women are gender specific crimes to which women are subjected to. Besides Information Technology Act, 2000, there is no gender specific act for crimes against women but there are certain specific sections that do deal with gender specific crimes. Whereas IPC, Criminal Procedure Code gives special protection to women and children, for instance, modesty of women is protected under Section 506, rape under 376, kidnapping under 363 and abortion against the will of the woman under 312 and many other offences that are prosecuted under IPC. For all the users accessing internet through cyber cafe, it is dime a dozen phenomena that the important information of the net surfer is being disclosed easily by the owners of cyber cafe and then used for illegal purposes. Rapid increase in the technology is a positive aspect that can be considered important for the development of any country, but when it becomes the source to increase the crime rate with technology against the weaker section of the society, the development takes a backslide.
The cyber crime incidents against women have increased enormously in the recent years but there are numerous cases that remain unregistered due to the lack of awareness of the reporting procedure or the sickness of the legal system in India. Many a times due to the hesitancy and shyness of the victim they fail to report. Most of the time women consider that she is accountable for the crime done to her. The women are more vulnerable to the danger of cybercrime as the offender’s identity remains anonymous and he may constantly threaten her with different names and identities. They also wonder whether they will get the support of their family or not. Due to the fear of losing respect in the society they often fail to report, which results in causing the spirits of culprit get even higher.
As the technology is getting advanced everyday with substantial rise in applications, the cybercrime and cyber violence is also increasing. We all know that new cyber technology always leads to rise in cyber crime. Our emphasis should be laid on development of cyber society, effective mechanism for detection and prevention of cybercrime and improving responses to cyber crime at lower level as well. Educating and involving the media professionals, people on internet and then encouraging them to increase cyber awareness. The government should emphasis on conducting national user awareness campaigns, delivering education at every stage of the society by engaging large private corporations and industries in the sponsorships of awareness and education programs with special stress on information technology. There should be skilled, trained and financially strong human resources to fight high tech cyber crimes and adoption of strict cyber laws towards the creation of cyber crime free information society. Government should promote awareness regarding cyber education and technical support to prevent e-crime, but without discouraging the development of e-commerce.
Adoption of these resilient policies will go a long way in preventing, controlling and fighting against cyber terrorism and cyber crime which has not only reached menacing proportion but is also likely to increase in foreseeable future.
India is among very few countries to enact Information Technology Act 2000 to curb cyber crimes. This act mostly covers commercial and economic cyber crimes but it is observed that there is no specific provision to protect security of women and children except very few provisions to cover some of the crimes against women in cyber space under Information technology act. Cyber laws must be cyber sensitive as well as gender sensitive. Governments must take legislative measures that ensure human rights; especially women’s and children’s. Legislation should not just protect users; however, it should also educate and create awareness among people regarding their communication rights, take preventive measures in cyberspace and seek recourse if their rights are being violated. It is the responsibility of our judicial system and governmental agencies to keep pace with the Technological developments in cyber world and must ensure that newer technologies do not become tools of exploitation and harassment. It is difficult to deal with cyber crime due to the loss of evidence and lack of cyber investigators. But, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill (2013) has taken care of most of these problems. The police, the judiciary and the investigative agencies must be well-equipped to handle evidences judiciously and need to stay abreast with latest developments in web-based applications so that they can quickly identify the actual offender.
I strongly believe that respect and safety of women are the basic foundations of a society and to make this world a better and safer place to live in, all that needs to be done is to teach boys at young age how to respect women in our society. The people must learn not to interfere with the private lives of others. Hence, to combat cyber crime against women in India, not only stricter penal reforms and cyber laws are needed but also a change in education system is a huge requirement.
 Indian information technology act, 2000
 Abhishek Jaiswal, Cyber Hacking law in India, (November 20, 2019), http://www.legalservicesindia.com/articles/cyhac.htm