Cybercrime
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This article is written by Aditi Shrivastava, pursuing Diploma in Cyber Law, FinTech Regulations, and Technology Contracts from LawSikho.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone around the globe. People faced various problems from lack of healthcare facilities, lockdown frustration, and isolation, losing jobs and business income, to losing their loved ones to this deadly virus. The COVID-19 virus has been proved to be a disaster causing innumerable deaths, mental, physical, and emotional agony to millions of people around the globe. The pandemic has not only taken away the lives of millions of people but has been a period of distress for many people who lost their jobs or had to shut down their businesses due to lockdown, for people who lost the only person who was capable of earning in the family, for children who lost both of their parents at such a fragile age, and many more.

But it is not limited to that! While people were struggling and fighting the pandemic, there was another atrocity spreading like virus i.e., the crime using the internet and mobile. Meanwhile, when people were using the internet and mobile to keep themselves distracted and busy during the pandemic, some people were taking out their lockdown frustration by misusing these resources and harassing people. The cybercrimes using the internet and mobile phones were gaining hype and were escalating during the pandemic. 

What are the causes and reasons for the escalation of cybercrimes during the pandemic? Who were the easy targets of cybercrime during the pandemic? What kind of cybercrimes were more frequently committed in the last year? What are the current laws to deal with these crimes? This article answers these questions and many other questions revolving around the issue of cybercrime during the pandemic.

Easy targets of cybercrime during the pandemic

Cybercrime against women during the pandemic

While men and adults were also scum to various cybercrimes, women, and children, being one of the most vulnerable parts of society, became the easy targets of cybercrime offenders during the pandemic. Women, especially housewives and who are prone to social media users have been exposed to such crimes during the pandemic. Women have also been the victims of domestic violence and abuse during the period of lockdown. 

According to the reports of the National Commission for Women, the number of cybercrimes against women rapidly increases during the period of lockdown and decreases afterward. The same can be shown by the tables given below:

Month

Number of Cybercrime cases against Women

The situation of pandemic and lockdown in India

March

37

No Lockdown; Pre-pandemic. 

April

55

Lockdown imposed; Pandemic started to grow in India.

May

73

Lockdown continued; the Pandemic was at its peak.

June

103

Lockdown restrictions were decreased; the Pandemic was at its peak.

July

110

Lockdown lifted; Pandemic continued with a small decrease in the number of cases.

August

68

No lockdown restrictions; the Pandemic was gradually decreasing.

September

59

No lockdown restrictions; the Pandemic was gradually decreasing.

October

48

No lockdown restrictions; the Pandemic was gradually decreasing.

As we can see, in 2020, the number of cybercrime cases against women rapidly increased in April and continued to grow in May, June, and July when India was badly affected by covid-19, the pandemic was at its peak and the entire nation was under lockdown. Eventually, when the pandemic started to decline and lockdown restrictions started to decrease in August, the number of cybercrime cases also started to decline and further declined in September and October when lockdown restrictions were lifted.

Month

Number of Cybercrime cases against Women

The situation of the second wave of pandemic and lockdown in India

February

42

No Lockdown; No sign of the second wave of Covid-19.

March

75

No Lockdown; the Second wave of covid-19 started to approach.

April

78

The state-wise lockdown was imposed in several Indian states; the Pandemic started to grow rapidly.

May

98

Lockdown continued; the Pandemic was at its peak.

June

78

Lockdown restrictions were decreased; the Pandemic was gradually decreasing.

July

67

Lockdown lifted; Pandemic was gradually decreasing.

As we can see, in 2021, the number of cybercrime cases against women rapidly increased in March and continued to grow in April and May when India was badly affected by the second wave of covid-19 and almost the entire nation was facing strict lockdown restrictions. Eventually, when the second wave of pandemics started to decline and lockdown restrictions started to decrease in June, the number of cybercrime cases also started to decline and further declined in July when lockdown restrictions were lifted.

  • Cybercrime cases against women in previous years

Year

Number of Cybercrime cases against Women

2021 (till July)

504

2020

704

2019

459

2018

375

2017

370

2016

311

2015

223

2014

209

A total number of 704 cybercrime cases against women were registered in 2020 i.e. when the pandemic started and 504 cybercrimes cases against women have already been registered in 2021 and we are only halfway through the year. The number of cybercrime cases against women was comparatively less in the previous years and significantly increased during the pandemic and lockdown.

Cybercrime against children during the pandemic

Children, especially those who have been either abandoned due to the loss of both of their parents to the COVID-19 virus or who have been temporarily separated from their parents because either of them has caught the disease have been the most vulnerable and easy targets to these cybercrimes. Where the parents are hospitalized and children are kept under other’s care or are uncared for, such children are more prone to cyber abuse because there is no one to look after their online activities. Children have been spending more time on virtual platforms due to the closing of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has exposed them to the risk of online harassment and cyberbullying. During the lockdown and due to the closure of the schools, parents had to rely on technology and digital solutions to keep their children learning, entertained, and connected to the outside world. Children are spending more time online for various entertainment, social and educational purposes. But all children do not have the necessary knowledge and resources to keep themselves safe and secure in the online world. 

The CHILDLINE 1098 helpline number, an emergency service number for women and children to help them in cases of abuse and violence, received more than 92,000 calls in the second week of lockdown in India in April 2020. The number of calls of children in distress and fear increased by 50 percent in just 11 days from March 25th, 2020. The Supreme Court of India took suo moto cognizance of the matter to eliminate the risk of abuse and violence against children during the pandemic.

Children are more vulnerable when they are kept away from their parents or when there is no one to look after them. The pandemic has made the situation even more vulnerable for children because they are helplessly exposed to the online world for their educational purposes. Most of the children, especially those belonging to Grade 1 to Grade 5, are very less acquainted with technology and internet use, and ethics. Therefore, it becomes very easy for sexual predators and other cybercrime offenders to hack the devices of these children and manipulate them. A child does not know whether the particular website is safe to visit or not, or whether a particular image/video should be downloaded or not and hence, gets easily manipulated to indulge in immoral activities and become easy targets of the cybercrime offenders.

Most frequently committed cybercrimes during the pandemic

Cybercrimes against women

During the pandemic and lockdown, people had to switch to the internet world for educational, entertainment, occupational, and social purposes. Working women started to work from home with the use of laptops, mobile phones, and the internet. Women who are still completing their education had to switch to the internet for virtual classes and other educational purposes. As most of the women were engaged on social media websites and on one or the other online platforms to carry out their educational, occupational, and entertainment purposes, the rate of cybercrimes against women started to increase during this period. As the entire nation was under strict lockdown, it became difficult for the offenders to make a physical attack on the victim, and therefore, they began to mentally and emotionally harass people. The most common cybercrimes that women encountered last year are as follows: 

  • Cyberstalking

It included connecting or trying to connect with the victim on social media or phone calls despite clear indication of disinterest from her end, posting messages (sometimes threatening) on the profile of the victim, constantly bombarding the victim with emails/text messages/phone calls, etc. 

  • Sextortion

This is the most common cybercrime committed against women during the period of the pandemic. The offenders started extorting money or sexual favors by blackmailing the victims to reveal their private pictures or morphed images. The pandemic and lockdown frustration made the offenders seek sexual video calls/images or messages from women by threatening them. Also, loss of income encouraged them to extort money by threatening the victim with their morphed images.

  • Cyber hacking

During the lockdown, people started to read news online. There was a rise in cases of fake news and information. The women started becoming the victim of cyber hacking by clicking on malware links which get all their information available on phone, turns on the camera and microphone, and captures their intimate pictures and videos. Offenders, in turn, use these pieces of information and pictures for sextortion and other favors.

  • Cyberbullying

This included publishing defamatory and abusive statements against the victim on social media platforms and demanding money for deleting them, insensitive comments on the posts of the victim, exchanging morphed images/private images of the victim without her consent, sending rape threats to the victim, etc. 

  • Phishing

To make money in lockdown, offenders are sending fake emails with a link to a particular webpage to induce the victim to unwittingly enter personal data like bank account details, contact details, and passwords or with the intention to install harmful viruses in the victim’s device as soon as they open the link. These emails and messages appear to have come from legitimate sources. The offenders then make fraudulent transactions from the victim’s account to their account with the use of the bank account and other personal details of the victim.

  • Sexually abusive and pornographic content

During the pandemic, offenders were also indulged in sexual abuse of women on the internet, morphing the picture of the victim and using it for the purpose of pornography.

  • Cybersex trafficking

Unlike sex trafficking, the victim does not come in direct contact with the abuser. In cybersex trafficking, the dealer live-streams, films, or photos of the victim performing sexual/intimate acts from a central location and sells the material online to sexual predators and buyers. The offenders have been sexually abusing women by making them a part of cybersex trafficking byways of coercion, manipulation, and blackmailing.

Cybercrime against children

While children were engaged on the internet and virtual platform for their educational purposes, they were unaware of its dark side. The parents, teachers, and children had to helplessly rely on these virtual platforms for fulfilling the educational needs of the children but at the same time, children were being exposed to cybercrime offenders being the easy targets to manipulate and harass. Some of the most common cybercrimes committed against children during the pandemic while they were engaged in educational and entertainment activities are as follows:

  • Sexual abuse of children

This includes child sexual abuse materials such as child pornographic images and videos, online sexual exploitation of children over phone call/video call where children are coerced into performing sexual acts. 

  • Pornographic/sexually explicit content for children

While using the internet for education and entertainment purposes or going through a social media page, children are being induced to open certain websites which direct them to sexually explicit content and pornographic videos/images. This corrupts the mentality of the child but the offender gets views and money. 

  • Cybersex trafficking

Unlike sex trafficking, the victim does not come in direct contact with the abuser. In cybersex trafficking, the dealer live-streams, films, or photos of the victim performing sexual/intimate acts from a central location and sells the material online to sexual predators and buyers. The offenders have been sexually abusing children by making them a part of cybersex trafficking byways of manipulation and coercion.

  • Cyberbullying

This includes harsh, mean, abusive, or cruel comments and messages against the child victim. Children are easy to bully because of their innocent nature and it becomes even much easier for the offenders to bully children on virtual platforms. Cyberbullying causes; avoiding school classes via virtual platforms, suddenly wanting to stop using the internet and computer devices, being secretive about their digital life, distress, and emotional instability among children.

  • Child grooming

The offender befriends the child victim by forming an emotional and fiduciary bond with him/her with the objective of sexual abuse of the child. The children tend to trust easily and hence, it becomes very much easy for the offenders to create such a bond with them. Once the bond is created, the offender starts manipulating the child to perform sexual acts. Child grooming via online platforms and social media has been one of the most committed cybercrimes during the pandemic. Child groomers were able to operate and gain children’s trust online and it became easy for them to do so because of the unawareness of children and parents about the dark side of the internet world. 

Above mentioned are some of the infamous cyber crimes committed against children during the pandemic. The children and parents of such children have been becoming victims of such crimes. This tells us about the need to educate children as well as parents about the cyber world and how they can protect themselves from cybercrime offenders.

Indian laws for cyber crimes committed during the pandemic

The existing legal framework concerning the cybercrimes committed against women and children during the pandemic includes:

Cybercrime complaint registration

The victim of cybercrime can register the complaint by any of the following methods: 

  1. Online Cyber Crime complaint (National Cybercrime Reporting Portal),
  2. Offline Cyber Crime complaint (Cyber Crime Cell),
  3. FIR (Local Police station).

However, during the time of the pandemic, the most feasible and recommended method to register a cybercrime complaint is the online method via National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. Through this method, the victim can register the complaint of the crime committed against her at the ease of sitting at her home. The victim will not have to visit any police station or cybercrime cell for the formalities or submitting the evidence. The relevant evidence can also be uploaded on the Cybercrime Portal at the time of registering the complaint. Moreover, the victim will have the option of tracking the status of her complaint with the help of her registered mobile number. Cybercrime offenses against women and children such as Child Pornography, Child Sexual Abuse Material containing sexually explicit images/videos of children, sexually explicit content such as rape/gang rape, etc. can be registered by the victim/complainant on the Cybercrime portal. The victim doesn’t need to register the complaint, any person on behalf of the victim can also register the complaint on Cybercrime Portal. Also, the victim/complainant can register the complaint anonymously i.e., the identity of the victim/complainant will not be revealed under this option. To track the status of the complaint in the future, the victim/complainant shall choose the option of “Report and Track” under which he/she will have to register with the mobile number and email ID. Under this option, the victim/complainant will receive a timely update of all the investigations and actions taken by the police officer concerning the complaint registered.

Another option that is available to the victim for the registration of the cybercrime complaint is the offline method i.e., the victim can make a written complaint to the nearest cybercrime cell and such written complaint shall be addressed to the Head of the respective cybercrime cell. The complaint application shall be accompanied by the name, contact details, mailing address, and other relevant documents/evidence of the victim/complainant.

In case, the victim/complainant does not have access to any of the cybercrime cells in India or internet services or devices, he/she can file an FIR at a local police station with all the relevant information and evidence. 

Information Technology Act, 2000

  • Section 66E: Punishment for violation of privacy

This section punishes the offender who intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes, or transmits the image of a private area of any person or a person engaged in private activities without the consent of such person.

Punishment: Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years or fine which may extend to two lakh rupees, or with both.

  • Section 67: Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form

This section punishes the cybercrime offender who publishes or transmits in the electronic form, any material which;

  1. Is lascivious (capable of arousing sexual desire), or
  2. It tends to deprave and corrupt the persons who are likely to read, see or hear the matter contained in it.

Punishment: First conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years and fine which may extend to 5 lakh rupees.

Second/subsequent conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and fine which may extend to 10 lakh rupees.

  • Section 67A: Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing the sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form

This section punishes the offender who publishes/ causes to publish or transmits/causes to transmit in electronic form any material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct.

Punishment: First conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and fine which may extend to 10 lakh rupees.

Second/subsequent conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 7 years and fine which may extend to 10 lakh rupees.

  • Section 67B: Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in the sexually explicit act, etc. in electronic form

This section punishes the offender who publishes/causes to publish, or transmits/causes to transmit, or creates text or digital images, collects, seeks, browses, downloads, advertise, promotes, exchanges, or distributes any material, in electronic form which depicts children engaged in a sexually explicit act or conduct. It also punishes the offender who cultivates, entices, or induces children to online relationships with one or more children for a sexually explicit act, or who facilitates online abusing of children, or who records in any electronic form abuse or sexually explicit act with children.

Punishment: First conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and fine which may extend to 10 lakh rupees.

Second/subsequent conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 7 years and fine which may extend to 10 lakh rupees.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

  • Section 354A: Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment

This section punishes the offender who commits any of the following acts-

  1. Physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; 
  2. A demand or request of sexual favors; or
  3. Showing pornography against the will of the woman; or
  4. Making sexually colored remarks.

Any of the above-mentioned acts if committed with the use of the internet, computer device, or computer network, amounts to cybercrime and is punishable under this section.

Punishment: Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years, or fine, or with both.

  • Section 354C: Voyeurism

This section punishes the offender who watches or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act when she believes and expects not to be watched or observed by the perpetrator or any other person.

Punishment: First conviction- Imprisonment which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to 3 years and fine.

Second/subsequent conviction- Imprisonment which shall not be less than 3 years, but which may extend to 7 years and fine.

  • Section 354D: Stalking

This section punishes the offender who-

  1. Follows a woman and contacts/attempts to contact such woman with the intention to establish a personal interaction despite clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or
  2. Monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email, or any other form of electronic communication.

Punishment: First conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years and fine.

Second/subsequent conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and fine.

  • Section 503: Criminal intimidation

This section punishes the offender who threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation, or property with the intent to cause alarm to that person or to cause that person to do any act which he/she is not legally bound to do or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do. 

Punishment under Section 506: Imprisonment which may extend to 2 years, or with fine, or with both. Punishment for criminal intimidation by imputing unchastity to a woman: Imprisonment which may extend to 7 years, or with fine, or with both.

  • Section 509: Word, gesture, or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman

This section punishes the offender who, intending to insult the modesty of a woman, utters any words, makes any sounds or gesture, or exhibits any object, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman.

Punishment: Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years and fine.

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986

  • Section 4: Prohibition of publication or sending by post of books, pamphlets, etc., containing indecent representation of women

This section prohibits the production, sale, letting to hire, distribute, or circulation by post any book, pamphlet, paper, slide, film, writing, drawing, painting, photograph, representation, or figure which contains indecent representation of women in any form. 

Punishment under Section 5: First conviction: Imprisonment which may extend to 3 years and fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees, but which may extend to one lakh rupees.

Second/subsequent conviction: Imprisonment which shall not be less than 2 years, but which may extend to 7 years and fine which shall not be less than one lakh rupees, but which may extend to five lakh rupees. 

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012

  • Section 11: Sexual harassment of child and punishment therefore

Under this section, the sexual harassment of children has been defined. Sexual harassment of a child is said to be committed when the offender-

  1. Utters any words, makes any sounds or gesture or exhibits any object or part of the body with the intention harass such child; or
  2. Makes a child exhibit his body or any part of his body so as it is seen by such offender or any other person; or
  3. Shows any object to a child in any form or media for pornographic purposes; or 
  4. Repeatedly or constantly follows/watches/contacts a child either directly or through electronic, digital, or any other means; or 
  5. Threatens to use, in any form of media, a real or fabricated depiction through electronic, film or digital or any other mode, of any part of the body of the child or the involvement of the child in a sexual act; or
  6. Entices a child for pornographic purposes or gives gratification.

Punishment for sexual harassment of a child under Section 12: Imprisonment which may extend to three years and fine.

  • Section 13: Using child for pornographic purposes and punishment therefore

Under this section, the offender who uses a child for sexual gratification, in any form of media (including Advertisement or Programme telecast by TV channels or internet or any other electronic/printed form), shall be guilty of the offense of using the child for pornographic purposes. The use of a child for sexual gratification includes-

  1. Representation of sexual organs of a child;
  2. Using a child engaged in real or simulated sexual acts (with/without penetration);
  3. The indecent or obscene representation of a child.

Punishment under Section 14: First conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and fine. Second/subsequent conviction- Imprisonment which may extend to 7 years and fine.

Conclusion

During the period of the pandemic, many women and children have become the victim of various cybercrimes. The rate of cybercrime increased unbelievably during the lockdown in India. A total number of 704 cyber crimes against women were registered in 2020 and 504 in 2021 (till July). The data provided above is evidence of the fact that the lockdown and pandemic frustration made the offenders commit such crimes aggressively. The most common cybercrimes committed against women during the pandemic are Cyber Stalking, Sextortion, Cyber Hacking, Cyber Bullying, Sexual Abuse (including sexually explicit and pornographic content against the victim), Cybersex Trafficking, and Phishing. The most common cybercrimes committed against children during the pandemic are Sexual Abuse of Children, Cybersex Trafficking, Cyber Bullying, Child Grooming, etc. Women and children are the most vulnerable parts of society and hence, became easy targets of cybercrime offenders and sexual predators during the lockdown.

To fight these cybercrimes committed against women and children, the Indian legal system provides various laws. The first and the foremost step of a victim should be to register the cybercrime complaint in the nearest cybercrime cell or on the National Cybercrime Reporting portal, or in case of no access to any of these platforms the victim can register an FIR in the local police station. The provisions of Information Technology Act, 2000, Indian Penal Code, 1860, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 prohibits the above-mentioned cybercrimes against women and children and also punishes the offender with strict punishments of imprisonment and fine.


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