Information technology has become so prevalent in the modern world that people cannot imagine their world without it. It has developed into a tool that allows individuals to communicate with one another on a worldwide scale for social, professional, and business purposes. People may easily converse, find a friend, or engage in competition with those on the other side of the globe. When the whole world was struggling with Covid-19 and lockdowns, social media platforms helped people of all generations to spend their time as everything was converted from offline to online. Then, they started relying on it more than ever before. But, open connectivity and rapid technological advancement have resulted in an increase in technology misuse, which is practically inevitable and has been made worse due to the expanding exchange of private, sensitive, and business-related information through the internet. We should not ignore these concerns. With the advent of the internet and social media platforms, cybercrimes started increasing with cyberstalking growing at an exponential rate.
Cyberstalking is a type of sensitive cybercrime in which people start following a particular person with the help of different social media platforms for a sustained period of time and start intimidating, harassing, abusing, and threatening them. Moreover, the victim doesn’t know that he/she is being stalked when it is started and provides the perpetrator the information they required and then uses it for identity theft. They get to know about this after a significant period in the form of excessive messages, calls, emails, or fake photos. Initially, they start by sending unpleasant rather funny messages but over time they are converted into abusive ones and then put the victim in such a situation that they cannot do anything and also cannot tell anyone about it. They track the victim’s locations, know their whereabouts, monitor their online and offline activities, breach their privacy and can even make fake profiles of victims on social media and release their confidential information, and can misuse online accounts.
INDIAN LAWS RELATED TO CYBERSTALKING
India has two laws that deal with cyberstalking, the first one is the Information technology Act, 2000 which says that Anyone who publishes or sends obscene content via electronic means will be held accountable under Section 67 of the Act. The decision of ISP (internet service providers) and their directors’ level of liability is not a part of this. The safety of the data, which hackers can easily disclose, is crucial for preventing cyberstalking. As per the amended IT act Section 43 A is added for the inclusion of a Body corporate “which allows the compensation in the case of a firm or a company that causes any unjustified loses or gains to any person by the way of transmitting any sensitive information and the maintenance of security, then such a body corporate shall be liable to pay damages by way of compensation” When the victim is the subject of cyberstalking, the Information Technology Act, 2000 also is taken into consideration. According to Section 67 “publishing, transmitting, or causing to publish any pornographic material in any form of electronic media constitutes an obscenity offence and is punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh. A subsequent conviction carries a maximum 10-year sentence in jail and a fine of Rs 2 lakh”. If the stalker uses a fraudulent identity to publish an offensive message or comment on any electronic media, Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with defamation, may be used to prosecute cyber stalking in India. A violation of Section 500 is punishable by up to two years in prison, a fine, or a combination of both. It is unlawful to disseminate false information about a person or to damage their reputation. According to Section 35D of the IPC, the act violates the prohibition against stalking.
INDIAN CASES RELATED TO CYBERSTALKING
The landmark case related to it is “The Kathuria case” which is the first registered case of cyberstalking. Kathuria was illegally using her name to communicate on the website www.mirc.com while stalking an Indian woman named Ms Ritu Kohli. She also used vulgar language, gave out her phone number, and urged people to text her on the phone. As a result, Ms Ritu Kohli began to receive obscene calls from different parts of India and beyond, and she began to engage in illicit conversation. She reported the incident to the Delhi police over the phone while still in distress. The police filed a complaint against her under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for abusing Ritu Kohli’s modesty. But, Section 509 only refers to speech, gestures, or actions that are meant to offend a woman’s modesty. There is no mention of it in the above clause, however, when the same actions are taken online. The Indian government expressed concern over this occurrence and the necessity to reform the rules governing the aforementioned crime and the protection of its victims. As a result, different laws were established to make cyberstalking a criminal offence.
Recently, a 17-year-old girl was stalked and harassed by a 21-year-old man who allegedly made friendships with the victim and pretending to be in the Army. Soon after, the victim’s mother inquired about him and discovered that he had used a false name and designation to talk to her daughter. After that, the victim stopped talking with the accused. He then allegedly started using the victim’s fraudulent social media accounts to harass and defame her. Moreover, he attempted to use these false profiles to extort money from her friends and teachers. When he was unsuccessful, he verbally harassed them and sent nasty messages to them along with the victim’s picture. A case was filed against him under Sections 419 (cheating by personation), 500 (defamation), 354d (stalking), and 509 (word, gesture, or act insulting a woman’s modesty) along with provisions of the IT and POCSO acts.
HOW TO PREVENT YOURSELF FROM CYBERSTALKING?
It’s crucial to keep your personal information private and avoid posting it on social media. Keep your phone number and email address to yourself. If sharing them is necessary for the convenience of doing business, always use a professional email address. Many people use the sharing and location-tagging features on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all other social media platforms, which might put them in risky situations. Many social media influencers and professionals publish extensive details about their daily life on online platforms, which enables a cyberstalker to keep track of them and even provides them physical access. You should also avoid replying to unknown messages from strangers, if you once replied they will become more aggressive over time as their main aim is to draw your attention. You may kindly inform them of the legal repercussions that would result from their continued transmission of these texts. Moreover, you have the option to complain and block that account if the offender does not cease after your warning. You may choose who can see your profile and who cannot, as well as who can share your posts and who you can’t share with. Facebook and Instagram both have tools that let you lock your profile, remain private, and adjust the privacy settings to make it more individualized and safe. You can also protect yourself from being hacked by changing the passwords for your email account and your social media accounts. Furthermore, avoid clicking any suspicious links that are frequently sent in messages or emails since they can include viruses or malware that might compromise your machine. Keeping all of the used software updated aids in preventing malware attacks.
With the advent of the internet, we are getting millions of opportunities that make our life easier, but we should not ignore the crimes over the internet which are increasing day by day at an exponential rate with cyberstalking, an immediate concern for the entire world. With the increased use of social media platforms, it becomes very easy for criminals to stalk any person with the click of a button, and breach their privacy by sharing their confidential information with the public. This can also give rise to other crimes such as rape, acid attack, or murder. This could be easy for the criminals as it can be done by sitting anywhere in the world which makes it more dangerous and harms the victim’s physical and mental well-being so much that they commit suicide especially if it’s a woman. Furthermore, there are many loopholes in laws such as it is a bailable offence that is rampant in the country. It is a gender-specific crime where it is believed that a perpetrator is always a man and a victim is always a woman. It is due to the stigma that is prevalent in society that men cannot be harassed which prevents them from reporting these crimes.
Author(s) Name: Bhumika Grover (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law)