Image source: https://www.nepia.com/identifying-cyber-threats/

This Article is written by A. Thiruthi and the article has been edited by Khushi Sharma (Trainee Associate, Blog iPleaders).

Introduction

The computer-generated environment of the internet is referred to as cyberspace, and the rules that govern it are referred to as cyber laws. All users of this space are subject to these laws, as it carries a sort of global jurisdiction. Additionally, cyber law can be regarded as a branch of law which deals with legal issues arising from the use of networked information technology. The pandemic has been a trying moment for people all throughout the world. People experienced a variety of challenges, including a shortage of healthcare services, dissatisfaction and isolation during lockdowns, job loss and business income loss, and the loss of loved ones to this lethal infection. The COVID-19 pandemic has been proven to be a calamity, claiming countless lives and wreaking havoc on millions of people worldwide. Not only has the pandemic claimed millions of lives, but it has been a period of hardship for many people who have lost jobs or been forced to close their enterprises due to lockdown, for families who have lost the only earner in the household, for children who have lost both parents at such a young age, and many more. However, this is not the case! While people struggled and fought the pandemic, another tragedy spread like a virus, namely cybercrime and mobile crime. Meanwhile, while many used the internet and phone devices to keep themselves entertained and occupied throughout the pandemic, several people vented their irritation with the lockdown by abusing these tools and bullying others. Cybercrime involving the internet as a medium gained momentum and accelerated during the pandemic. 

Cybercrime

Cybercrime is not specified in India’s Information Technology Act 2000 or any other law. Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and a number of other statutes, crime or offence has been carefully defined by listing specific offences and their associated penalties. Thus, cyber-crime might be defined as a synthesis of crime and technology. To put it simply, ‘any offence or crime that involves the use of a computer is a cyber-crime.’ Cybercrime refers to crimes committed over the internet in which the perpetrator, hidden by the curtain of a computer screen, is not required to make personal contact with another person and may not always disclose their name. In a cyber-crime, the computer or the data is the target, the goal of the offence, or a tool used to commit another offence by providing the necessary inputs. All of these types of offences fall under the broader term of cybercrime.

Cyber-law encompasses the following:

  • Cybercriminals
  • Signatures electronically and digitally
  • Intellectual Property
  • Protection of personal data and privacy

Victims of cybercrime

While men and adult were victims of numerous cybercrime schemes, women and children, as the most vulnerable members of society, became easy targets for cybercriminals during the pandemic. During the pandemic, women, particularly housewives and those who are frequent social media users, were exposed to such crimes. According to the 2021 National Commission for Women’s reports, the number of cybercrime incidents against women spikes during the lockdown time and then declines. In March 2021, the frequency of cybercrimes against women surged dramatically and continued to expand in April and May, when India was severely impacted by the second batch of covid-19, and nearly the entire country was subjected to stringent lockdown restrictions. Finally, as the second wave of pandemic subsided and lockdown limitations were lifted in June, the frequency of cyber-attacks instances began to reduce as well and continued to decline in July as lockdown limits were lifted. The number of women victims of cybercrime was very low in previous years but surged considerably during the pandemic and shutdown.

Cybercrimes against women

People were forced to use the internet for educational, leisure, professional, and social purposes throughout the pandemic and lockdown. Working women began working from home using laptops, smart-phones, and the web. Women who are still enrolled in school have been forced to use the web for online learning and other educational activities. Due to the fact that the majority of women were using social media websites and one or more online platforms for educational, occupational, and recreational purposes during this time period, the rate of cybercrime against women began to rise. Due to the fact that the entire country was on lockdown, criminals were unable to physically assault the victim, and thus began mentally and emotionally harassing them. The following are the most often encountered cybercrimes by women:

  1. CYBER STALKING- It included contacting or attempting to engage with the victim via social networking sites or phone conversations despite her evident indifference, writing messages (often threatening) on the victim’s page, and persistently pestering the victims with e – mails messages/phone calls, among other things. 
  2. SEXTORTION- This is the most frequently committed cybercrime involving women during the pandemic period. The criminals began extorting or sexual favours from their victims by blackmailing them into disclosing their private photographs or modified images. By intimidating women, perpetrators sought sexual videoconferencing or letters from them in response to the pandemic frustration. Additionally, their lack of income emboldened them to extract money from victims by threatening them with their modified photographs.
  3. CYBER HACKING- People began reading news online during the pandemic. There has been an increase in the number of instances of bogus news and information. The women became victims of cyber hacking after clicking on malware URLs that downloaded all their personal information on their phones, activated the microphone and camera, and captured their intimate photos and videos. Offenders then utilize these pieces of data and images to commit sextortion and other crimes.
  4. CYBER-BULLYING- This would include posting false and misleading and abusive statements about the victims on social networking sites and demanding payment to have them removed, leaving hurtful comments on the victim’s posts, exchanging morphed/private pictures of the victims without her consent, and sending rape and death threats to the victim, among other things. A sort of harassment and bullying is committed through digital or communicative devices such as a computer, mobile phone, or laptop.
  5. PHISHING- To earn money during the lockdown, criminals send bogus email messages with a link to a specific webpage in order to trick the victim into entering personal information such as bank payment information, contact information, and passcodes or with the intention of infecting the victim’s device with harmful viruses as soon as the link is opened. These emails and texts look to be real. The perpetrators then utilize the victim’s bank account and other private details to conduct suspicious transactions from the victim’s account to their own.
  6. PORNOGRAPHY- Throughout the epidemic, perpetrators engaged in online sexual assault of women, morphing the victim’s image and utilizing it for pornographic purposes.
  7. CYBERSEX TRAFFICKING- In contrast to sex trafficking, the victims has no direct interaction with the abuser. Cybersex trafficking occurs when a dealer broadcasts, records, or photographs the victim doing sexual/intimate actions from a central place and then sells the material on the internet to sexual abusers and purchasers. The offenders have sexually abused women by coercing, manipulating, and blackmailing them into becoming involved in cybersex trafficking.

Legal provisions

Although a full regulatory framework for laws regulating the cyber domain, including such activities, has not been drafted, certain legal remedies under various statutes can assist a victims of cyber violence.

  1. The Indian Penal Code 1860

Prior to 2013, there was no law specifically addressing online abuse or crimes against women in cyberspace. Section 354A of the 2013 Criminal Amendment Act amends the Indian Penal Code, 1860 by adding Sections 354A to 354D. 

  • Section 354A: A man who commits any of the following events – a demand or plea for sexual services; or displaying pornography against a woman’s will; or making sexual remarks – commits sexual harassment and may be penalized with stringent imprisonment for a period up to 3 years, or with a fine, or with both. In the instance of the first two, and with a period of imprisonment for a period of up to one year, or by a fine, or with the both.
  • Section 354C defines ‘voyeurism’ as the act of photographing and/or publishing a picture of a woman engaged in a private act without her consent. To qualify as ‘Voyeurism,’ the conditions must be such that the lady would “typically expect not to be seen, either by the offender or by any person acting at the perpetrator’s direction.” A person convicted underneath this section faces a fine and up to three years in prison on the first conviction and 7 years on successive convictions.
  • Section 354D added a stalking prohibition that includes online stalking. Stalking is described as an act in which a male pursues or contacts a woman despite the woman’s evident disinterest in such contact, or watches a woman’s cyber activity or usage of the Web or electronic communication. A man convicted of stalking faces up to three years in prison and a fine for the first offence, and up to five years in prison and a fine for successive convictions.

Apart from the specific revisions to the Code, there are a number of other laws within which cyber-attacks may be reported and the accused prosecuted. These include the following:-

  • Section 499: To slander, someone is to commit an act with the goal of slandering their reputation. When committed with the intent to injure the woman’s reputation, defamation through the publishing of immediate and clear representation of imputation is punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, a fine, or both.
  • Section 503: Threats to harm a person’s reputation, either to cause her panic or to compel her to modify her course of conduct about whatever she would normally do/not do, constitute criminal intimidation. The act of cyber-blackmailing a person, as was done in the aforementioned example, can be placed within the range of this law.
  • Section 507: This section establishes the maximum penalty for Criminal Intimidation committed by an individual whose identity is unknown to the victim. Any anonymous communication that constitutes criminal intimidation in violation of the preceding Section 503 is penalized under this section.
  • Section 509: Any individual who utters a word, makes a sound or gesture, or displays an object with the intent that such word, sound, gesture, or object is heard or seen by a female and insults her modesty, or intrudes on her privacy, may be charged underneath this section and sentenced to up to three years in prison and a fine. This section may penalize instances of sexual remarks or comments made over the Net, as well as other explicit photos and content that are forcibly transmitted over the web.
  1. The Information Technology Act 2000 
  • Section 66C– Identity theft is a punished offense under Section 66C of the IT Act. This clause would apply to instances of cyber hacking. Under this provision, anyone who uses another person’s electronic signature, password, or other unique identifying feature fraudulently or dishonestly faces up to three years in prison and a fine of up to Rs. one lakh.
  • Section 66E deals with a person’s right to privacy being violated. Capturing, publishing, or sending an image of a person’s private area without her agreement, or in circumstances that violate her privacy, is penalized by up to three years in prison and/or a fine.
  • Section 67 makes it illegal to publish, transmit, or cause the distribution of obscene content and punishes violators with up to three years in prison and a fine on the first conviction and up to five years in prison and a fine on the second conviction. 
  • Section 67A makes the publishing, transmission, or facilitating the transfer of sexually explicit content a misdemeanour punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine on the first offence, and up to seven years in prison and a fine on the second conviction.
  1. Indecent Representation of Women Bill 2012

This Bill controls and forbids obscene representation of women in advertising, publishing, and other forms of media. This Bill intends to widen the law’s reach to encompass audiovisual media and electronic materials, as well as dissemination of material via the Web and the depiction of women on the web. But this Bill has been withdrawn in July 2021. 

Suggestions

  • Keep a watch out for insignificant/false phone/email messages.
  • Do Not Respond to emails that request personal information.
  • Keep an eye out for bogus websites that attempt to steal your personal information.
  • Pay close attention to the privacy policies posted on websites and included with the software.
  • Take care of your email address.
  • Utilize Secure Passwords.
  • If a victim is a victim of cybercrime, he or she should inform the nearby cyber cell or police department.
  • Additionally, a complaint may be made anonymously using the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal.

Conclusion

To summarize, while a crime-free society is impossible to achieve and only exists in fantasy, it should be a continuing effort to enforce regulations that reduce criminality to a minimum. Particularly in an increasingly technologically reliant world, criminality related to electronic law-breaking is certain to increase, and legislators must go the extra mile to keep impostors at bay. Technology is often a double-edged sword that can be employed for either good or evil purposes. To combat cybercrime against women, the Legal system has enacted a number of legislation. Thus, it should be the relentless efforts of rulers and legislators to assure that technology advances in a healthier way and is employed for legal and ethical economic growth rather than criminal activity.


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