Cyber crime against women, Part II: From the perspective of amended IT Act


by Debarati Halder*

Introduction

Since the inception of Indian information technology Act, in 2001, cyber crime has grown not only in numbers but also in characters in India. Women however remained the most chosen victims of cyber crimes in India since then. Way back in 2007 when I wrote about cyber crime against women in India for the CLT , I never dreamt Indian women would respond so much in the coming future to the growing awareness towards protecting themselves from the online crimes. As I have categorized the online crimes against women in my previous article, it is necessary here to have brief run into them to understand where we stand now. I had mentioned six types of crimes that happen online against women. These are: 1. Harassment via email, 2. Cyber stalking, 3.cyber pornography, 4.defamation, 5.morphing and 6.email spoofing.1 But then, the categories of online crimes targeting women have expanded and the wave has neither left India alone. These new generation offences are cyber flames, cyber eve teasing, cyber flirting, cyber cheating, etc. Most of them happen in the social networking websites, public chat rooms, groups or forums. Apparently these are “vegetable” offences; I term them “vegetables” because most perpetrators as well as victims do not understand that there is any thing wrong in it. But no, in reality, they are not so. Each of these offences are “offences” if they are seen from “cyber decency” perspective. Many of us do remember the tragic death of Kaushambi, the root cause of which was infact cyber flirting. Similarly there are many cases where the woman victim keeps on receiving harassing messages, pornographic images and even obscene materials. Believe it or not, many ex spouses, broken heart boy friends or girl friends have also taken to internet to take revenge. Since late 2004, young as well as adult men took up such nasty pranks, thinking these are nothing but simple ways of ego satisfaction. The number of offences grew. The offenders, understanding that these are no more child plays, started becoming “anonymous” or even hiding under camouflaged names to continue their game. The main reason: the absence of proper law.


The new law to protect women online: the existing cyber law was inept to protect and prevent cyber crimes against women in India. How ever, the amended version has removed many difficulties satisfactorily. Even though the new law can not be given full marks as a highly appropriate measure to stop atrocities against women online, it is indeed a solace to victim prone women users. I will justify my argument below:

1. The present law (Information technology Act (amended) 2008) has widened the wings in the “offence” chapter to include several serious misdeeds as punishable and penal. For instance, section 66A for the first time brings in a unique provision, “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc”.If seen from a wide perspective , this section goes on to protect cyber bullying, cyber defamation as well as cyber flame. The wordings of the section are gender neutral. But given the circumstances, this section can even prevent eve teasing online. In other ways, a woman, when harassed, need not dig in the Indian penal code to categorize the offence as cyber defamation or cyber harassment.

2. This new Act also deals with identity theft under section 66C. The wordings very much advocate for a provision to protect online economic crimes. But I feel this section can be stretched to cover identity theft related offences attacking women online, for instance, hacking email ids, personal blogs, social networking profiles and using the cloned profiles to disturb others.

3. Cheating by impersonations under section 66D is another section which caught my attention. The wordings are again very much for protecting eCommerce, but then look at the wordings of the section: it says “Whoever, by means of any communication device or computer resource cheats by personation, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees”. This section can be fantastically used to punish those who play nasty games in the online matrimonial forums, the chatting rooms, and social networking websites, besides regular email frauds where older men play as young people to deceive women or to harass women.

4. The biggest advantage of the new law is, it has given wider protection for the online privacy. The traditional online privacy concept has a better facelift under section 66F which not only prevents voyeurism, but also goes to prevent morphing of individual’s photographs for pornographic purposes. The new Act how ever has preserved section 72 in order to protect privacy of personal records from the perpetrators who may dare to disclose the informations without the consent of the individuals.

5. The law has taken utmost care to prevent online sexual abuse of women. There are three provisions dealing with obscenity (section 67), sexually explicit material(section67A) and child pornography(section 67B). Critics may say these provisions are just safeguards to prevent and protect indecency in the internet. But I feel these provisions, by punishing transmitting or publishing obscene material, sexually explicit material and child pornography, could stop sexual abuse of women users of the internet. Now, the point to note is, could sexually explicit material be really banned from being transmitted or published? We must remember that by using the words “sexually explicit material”, the draftsmen of the new law wanted to prohibit hardcore pornography in the internet and not obscenity only. If compared with the US, we may see that transmitting, publishing or viewing of pornography is not illegal in the US, but obscenity is. Canada also follows the US footsteps. The reason is the above mentioned countries have accepted fulfilling sexual desires by viewing pornography online as a part of fundamental freedom of expression and speech. But the social values in India differ from these countries and more so, if publishing or transmitting sexually explicit material is encouraged by absence of law, there remains possibility of innocent women being victimized whose internet identity could be misused for this purpose. The law has further toughened the situation for online child sexual harassment. The new generation computer savvy children of India are always in the risk zone of being sexually abused or harassed online. The risk factor raises more when it is related to teenager girls and boys who love to experiment with the internet.

6. The new law further makes it easy to nab the perpetrator with very strong wordings in chapter IV under the title “attribution, acknowledgment and dispatch of electronic records”. Sections 11, 12 and 13 speak about attribution, acknowledgement and dispatch of electronic records respectively. This is again for the legal necessities for fulfilling of contract purpose. But at the same time, the chapter has made it easy for the harassed or abused justice seeker to prove her allegations.







Conclusion:

Since before the implementation of the new law, cyber cells came into action in India which helped victimized women to report the incidence to the police .But it was the social stigma, and ignorance of available legal protections which prevented many women to approach the police directly. Many ask “what should I do?” “How can I face the police”? “Do I need a lawyer to approach the whole issue”? The new law has some how relieved the tension of these victims who are rather confused. But there is something more which could have been done. There is no mention of women staff in the cyber tribunal constitution; neither cyber cells have compulsory women posts. Probably this could have reduced the number of victims “not so interested to proceed with reporting”. Since this law goes far to prevent voyeurism or even hardcore pornography, it is expected that online abuse of women due to the absence of proper law, may soon be a subject of past.


* Debarati Halder is an advocate and an independent scholar. She specializes on cyber law, international law and comparative constitutions. She is a cyber victim counselor and is presently engaged as an “internet safety advocate” with WHOA ( a voluntary US based organization working towards prevention of online abuse, url: www.haltabuse.org) . More about her can be known from her website www.debaratihalder.co.nr . She can be contacted @Debaratihalder@gmail.com


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