We live in the Age of Information, where the effect of the internet is profound, particularly with the growth of social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. These Social networking websites allow users access to information about one’s interests and opinions, one’s location and places visited and a host of other personal details which could potentially be harmful in the wrong hands. Information is, indeed, power. As the saying goes, ‘Power Corrupts… and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ it fits adequately in the arena of the internet as well where the world has become information superhighway. Unwelcome and harmful conduct on the internet can take place in a number of ways including spam, spim and phishing. Cyberstalking is one of many such Cyber crimes.
What is Stalking?
The word “stalking” has acquired a new meaning in internet parlance. Colloquially speaking the act of simply browsing through a user’s online history through social media websites and other web pages to learn about them is referred to as stalking. This trivializes an offence which can have grave and severe consequences. Stalking means following and watching someone over an extended period in a way that is annoying or frightening. It involves harassing or threatening behaviour that an individual engages in repeatedly such as following a person, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages on objects, or vandalizing a person’s property.
What is cyberstalking?
The term cyberstalking broadly refers to the use of internet or other means of electronic communication to stalk a person. It is the means to intimidate or cause harm to an individual or group of individuals or to make someone else afraid or concerned about their safety. Generally speaking, this conduct is threatening or otherwise fear-inducing, involves an invasion of a person’s relative right to privacy, and manifests in repeated actions over time. Most of the time, those who cyberstalk use social media, Internet databases, search engines, and other online resources to intimidate, follow, and cause anxiety or terror to others.
Some Features of Cyberstalking
The phenomenon of stalking has been around for decades warranting numerous laws on a state and national level prohibiting it and setting penalties for law violation.
· Cyberstalking occurs more readily given the use of already ubiquitous Internet-based platforms and resources to help accomplish the victimization. The perpetrator can find and target his or her victim immediately and without many obstacles .
· Cyberstalking can occur in a most efficient manner since many individuals share much of their lives online via social media, which provides background information, location, personal interests, family and relationship details to learn and exploit. The constant presence on these social sites and use of our phones, tablets, and other devices, and our 24/7 reachability and connectivity can provide would-be aggressors the ability to constantly message, post, or otherwise invade the mind and emotions of targets.
· Another reason why stalking online may be more attractive to perpetrators is because they can easily pursue their targets from a geographically-distant location, making it exponentially harder to identify, locate, and prosecute them. Armed only with Internet access and their phone, tablet, or laptop, a stalker can get online and threaten his or her target from another city, state, or continent, and even shield or hide his or her location. This introduces much fear and worry as to what the perpetrator may do next, and whether that person is far away or very close nearby.
· Jurisdictional issues have become more complex when dealing with , as it is not clear whether prosecutors should look to state law or apply federal law in cases where events cross state lines.
LAWS DEALING WITH CYBERSTALKING IN INDIA
The Information Technology Act, 2000
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 states that a person would be punished with imprisonment for up to 3 years with fine if he uses a computer resource or communication device to send-
· Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character.
· Any information which is false to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.
· Any email or electronic mail message to cause annoyance or inconvenience, mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.
The infamous matter of 2004 caught the attention of the government, where an Indian schoolboy recorded a sexual encounter between himself and a 16-year-old girl using his mobile phone. The video clip found its way to the Internet through a site called bazzee.com; subsequently, copies were sold via an auction site, and its chief executive officer of American origin was arrested. In the resulting suit, the director of the company was charged for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form under Section 67 of the Act. This section states that when any obscene material is published, transmitted or caused to be published in any electronic form, then it is a crime of obscenity, punishable with imprisonment for up to 5 years with fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh. A second or subsequent conviction is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years with a fine of up to Rs. 2 lakh. However, the approach taken by the court, in this case, does not contribute to the determination of the extent of liability of internet service providers and their directors.
Data protection is an important step in the prevention of cyberstalking as in most cases cyberstalking is worsened in the situation where perpetrator gets hold of the victim’s personal information. In the 2008 Amendment to the IT Act, Section 43A was added to include a “body corporate” within its scope, allowing compensation in case a company or firm causes wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person by way of handling sensitive information and maintaining the security of such. The body will face civil liability under negligence in case “reasonable security practices and procedures” are not followed.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013
Laws are constantly amended to keep up with the change in modes of committing crimes. After the Delhi Gang Rape case in 2012, the Indian Penal Code was amended by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 that added Section 354D to the IPC. Section 353-357 of the Indian Penal Code provides stalking laws in India and lay down the punishment for committing the crime of stalking. However, there are no provisions in the criminal laws in India that specifically criminalises cyberstalking in India.
Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with defamation, can also be applied in case of cyberstalking in India if the stalker forges the victim’s personal information to post an obscene message or comment on any electronic media. Section 500 criminalises publishing any false statement against a person or harming the person's reputation and provides punishment for any such act with imprisonment up to 2 years, fine or both.
The history of cyberstalking in India can be traced back to 2001, in a case where a woman Ritu Kohli complained of being stalked on the internet. Manish Kathuria, a man, used Kohli’s name to engage in illegally chatting and the sending of obscene messages on the website www.mirc.com. He distributed her personal information, and she began receiving annoying calls at odd hours. Kohli reported the matter to the Delhi Police, who dutifully filed a case under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes any word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. By the Act of 2013, cyberstalking has been specifically outlined as a punishable offence.
How Can we Prevent and Respond to Cyberstalking?
There are some precautionary measures that users can take so as not to become victims -
First, since perpetrators take advantage of personal information they can find about a target and use it in malicious ways, standard Internet security practices are important.
For example –
One should always log out of programs when you are done if your device is ever accessible by another person. It is also helpful to use a passcode or password for all device screens to keepothers away from seeing any content like personal notes, pictures, videos, account data, etc. that you store therein. Employing these practices makes it harder for a perpetrator to log on to your device and post any disturbing or embarrassing messages by impersonating you.
It remains critical to stay vigilant about Password safety and refrain yourself from sharing them with anyone else.
We should always take the time out to conduct a Google search of your name or family members’ names to see what information is already available out there about you and your loved ones.
Also check online people databases like Zabasearch, Spokeo, Pipl, Wink, and PeekYou, as well as social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Try to remove any private or inappropriate content.
Contact relevant web hosts or service providers to help you.
Avoid creating account on fake website.
Navin Kumar Jaggi