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Cyber Crime and Cyber Law : An overview

October 15, 2019
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This article is written by Shambhavi Tripathi, a 3rd-year student of LL.B. in Panjab University, Chandigarh. The article is an introduction to cyber crimes and cyber law and the impact of cyber crimes. It further discusses the pros and cons of the IT Act, 2000 and changes brought in by the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008.

Introduction

We are living in an era where the internet has become a part of our daily schedule. Everything, from ordering food to shopping online, studying a subject to looking at memes, posting online about your whereabouts to online transactions, has been so engraved in our functioning that we tend to overlook the threats and dangers it poses to us. The web is a worldwide stage, which means that anyone can have access to it. And once people have access to anything, they start violating it.

Cyberspace is a global computer network which felicitates online communication. It allows users to share information and ideas, interact and communicate, play games, engage in discussions, conduct business and many other activities. In other words, this computer-generated worldwide stage of internet and web is known as Cyberspace. 

To know more about the virtual reality of cyber stalking in India in brief, please refer to the video below:

The Indian Law does not define the term ‘cybercrime’. It is neither defined in the Information Technology Act, 2000 nor in the I.T. Amendment Act, 2008 nor in any other legislation of India. In fact, the Indian Penal Code still does not use the term ‘cybercrime’ even after its amendment by the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008. However, cybercrime can be defined as any criminal activity directly related to the use of computers and the internet, such as illegal trespass into the computer system or database of another, manipulation or theft of stored or online data, hacking, phishing, cyber warfare, spreading computer viruses etc. In simple words, any offence or crime in which a computer is used for committing that crime.

Next, coming to cyber law, it can be defined as the law which governs Cyberspace and protects from cyber crimes and lays down punishments for its violation. Cyberlaw is a common term which refers to legal jurisdiction and regulation of various aspects of the internet and computer security. In India, cyber laws are regulated by the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Impact of Cyber Crimes

Impact on Economy 

People today are highly dependent on computers and the internet for money transfers and making payments. Therefore, the risk of being subjected to online money frauds is extremely high. Norton CyberCrime disclosed in 2011 that over 74 million people in the United States were victims of cybercrime in 2010, which directly resulted in financial losses of approximately $32 billion. Even in India, with the emergence and popularity of “cashless India”, chances of being duped online are also increasing, if one is not smart enough to use safe online transaction platforms and apps.

Not just individuals suffer from financial losses due to cybercrimes; some of the surveys conducted have stated that approximately 80% of the companies participating in the surveys accepted financial losses due to cybercrimes.

Leakage of Personal Information

Not just financial losses, people also suffer from leakage of their personal information. Many social networking sites, no matter how safe, are still an open platform for everyone to see someone else’s life, which can be dangerous. Apart from this, hackers can also hack into one’s account and collect whatever information they want to. Spamming and phishing also cause harm to people.

Loss of Consumer Trust

With such financial losses and a threat to personal information, consumers start losing trust in such sites and apps. Even if the person committing the crime is someone else, the site or app is declared to be fraudulent and unsafe. Also, it makes people reluctant to start a transaction when their credit card information is asked. This affects the credibility of an e-business and consequently jeopardizes a potential business.

The threat to National Security

Nowadays, the military of most of the countries is using advanced computer technologies and networks. Information warfare, albeit old, is used to spread malware, which can cause network crashes and spread misinformation. Not just militaries but terrorists and cybercriminals also these technologies to intrude in other Country’s security networks and obtain information. They also send threats and warnings through computer systems.

Need of Cyber Law

With the evolution and development of the internet, information technology and computers, challenges imposed by cyber crimes have also increased. Therefore, cyber laws regulate all fields of laws in which cyber crimes can be committed, such as criminal law, contract, intellectual property law and tort. Cyber laws deal with various kinds of concerns, such as free speech, safety, intellectual property rights, privacy, terrorism, e-commerce and jurisdiction of cyber laws. 

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With the increase in the number of internet users, the need for cyber laws and their application has become very urgent in modern times. Cyber laws are needed because: 

  1. Consumers are increasingly using online transactions with the increased popularity of payment apps and sites, as they are easy and efficient. Government’s scheme of ‘Cashless India’ has also gained popularity resulting in a high amount of online transactions.
  2. Email, SMS, messaging apps and social networking sites have become the main mode of communication.
  3. Companies are highly dependent upon their computer networks to keep their electronic data safe.
  4. Most of the government forms are now filled in electronic format, for example, Income Tax Return, Passport application, Pan Card application, Company law forms etc.
  5. Digital Signatures and authorization is fast, replacing conventional ways of identification for transactions.
  6. Computers and networks also help in non-cyber crimes as well. As most of the data, these days are stored in computers and mobile phones. The evidence collected from them can help in various crimes such as kidnapping, terrorist attacks, counterfeit currencies, tax evasion and such.
  7. Cyber laws help in representing and defining the model of cyber society and maintaining cyber properties.
  8. Digital contracts are also gaining popularity in modern times; cyber laws help in protecting the rights of these legally enforceable digital contracts.

Scope of Cyber Law

The scope of cyber law is very wide as it deals with various kinds of challenges and threats imposed by the internet and developments in computer technology: 

  1. Dealing with computer hackers, spammers and those who spread malware and viruses.
  2. Protecting the privacy of the individuals and preventing frauds in money transactions.
  3. Regulations and categorization of contractual obligations related to the acquisition of software.
  4. Protection of Intellectual Property Rights and dealing with issues of copyright in a computer program and patent protection of software programs.
  5. Dealing with the purchases from other jurisdictions under e-commerce.
  6. Regulation and dealing with the issue of trafficking in domain names under the law; and
  7. Regulation of the content and information available on the internet.
  8. Protection and regulation of freedom of speech and expression and right to information.

Cyber Law in India and the IT Act, 2000

In India, cyber laws are contained in the Information Technology Act, 2000. The main object of this Act is to provide legal recognition to e-commerce and electronic formats and to facilitate the filing of electronic records with the Government. This legislation lays down rules and regulations related to cybercrimes, electronic information and formats, electronic authentication and digital signatures, and liability of network service providers. The I.T. Act is based on the United Nations Model Law on Electronic Commerce 1996 (UNCITRAL Model) recommended by the General Assembly of the United Nations by a resolution dated 30 January 1997.

The Indian Cyber Law covers these major aspects of Cyberspace and cybercrime:

  1. The Indian Cyber Law makes every format in electronic form legal, which means anything that you write, share and publish electronically is now considered legal.
  2. It also makes all electronic contracts legal, which means that an offer can be electronically made and accepted, and it would amount to a valid and binding electronic contract.
  3. The Indian Cyber Law recognizes and legalizes the concept of digital signatures and electronic authentications. 
  4. Indian Cyber Law covers almost all kinds of cybercrimes and provides punishment for the same. 
  5. It also punishes the people of other nationalities, provided their crimes involve any computer or network situated in India.

Legalization of everything in electronic format, such as publications, communications, signatures and authorization, means that it is all now valid and can be used in any proceedings.

Pros of the I.T. Act, 2000

  1. Before the enactment of the I.T. Act, 2000, the usual means of communication such as emails and texts were not considered as a legal form of communication and due to this, they were not admissible as evidence in a court of law. But after the enactment of I.T. Act, 2000 electronic formats and communication got legal recognition, and now they are admissible as evidence in a court of law.
  2. With the introduction of the I.T. Act, 2000, now companies can carry out e-commerce and e-business and promote online transactions commercially using the legal infrastructure provided by this Act. 
  3. Digital signatures and authentications have been legalized after the I.T. Act, 2000, which is a great assistance to carry out transactions online as they help in verifying the identity of an individual on the internet. 
  4. The I.T. Act, 2000, provides for corporate to have statutory remedies if anyone hacks and breaks into their computer systems or networks and causes any kind of damages. The I.T. Act, 2000 provides for monetary damages, by the way, compensation, as a remedy for such crimes. 
  5. The I.T. Act, 2000 has defined, recognized and penalized various cyber crimes such as hacking, spamming, identity theft, phishing and many more. Prior to this Act, cybercrimes were not included in any legislation, and there was no legal remedy for such crimes. 
  6. The Act allows companies to issue digital certificates by becoming Certifying Authorities. 
  7. This Act also allows the Government to issue notices on the internet through e-governance. 

Cons of the I.T. Act, 2000

  1. The I.T. Act, 2000 may cause a conflict of jurisdiction. 
  2. Electronic commerce is based on the system of domain names. The I.T. Act, 2000 does not address the issues relating to domain names, rights and liabilities of domain owners. 
  3. The I.T. Act, 2000 does not provide for the protection of Intellectual Property Rights as issues regarding copyrights and patents are very common in relation to computer programs and networks.
  4. The offences covered and defined under the I.T. Act, 2000 are not exhaustive in nature. Since, with the advancements in technologies, computer programs and networks are constantly changing and evolving, and with this advancement, the nature of cybercrimes is also evolving. This Act does not cover various kinds of cybercrimes such as cyberstalking, cyber fraud, chat room abuse, theft of internet hours and many more. 
  5. The I.T. Act, 2000 has not addressed issues like privacy and content regulation, which is very necessary, considering the vulnerability internet poses. 
  6. Lastly, the main issue with this Act is its implementation. The I.T. Act, 2000 does not lay down any parameters for its implementation and regulations.

Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008

Few amendments have been made in the I.T. Act, 2000 which have improved certain provisions of the original Act. Few of the amendments are:

  1. The term’ digital signature’ has been replaced with ‘electronic signature’ to make the Act more technology-neutral. 
  2. The term ‘Communication device’ has been defined. According to the definition, ‘Communication device’ means cell phones, personal digital assistants or combination of both or any other device used to communicate, send or transmit any text, video, audio or image.
  3. The term ‘Cybercafe’ has also been defined as any facility from where the access to the internet is offered by any person in the ordinary course of business to the members of the public. 
  4. New Sections have been added to address data protection and privacy.

Conclusion

The role and usage of the internet is increasing worldwide rapidly. It has increased the convenience of the consumer as everything can be done staying at home; however, it has also increased the convenience of cybercriminals to access any data and information which people intentionally and unintentionally provide on the internet and otherwise. So, along with proper legislation to protect and prevent cybercrimes, it is necessary that people are made aware and educated regarding cybercrimes. 

Nevertheless, even though internet users let out their personal data easily, it still remains the responsibility of the State to protect the interests of its people. It has been recently found that big companies like Facebook use personal information and data of its users and use this information to influence the political views of people. This is a serious threat to both individual’s privacy and the Nation’s interests. With the introduction of the I.T. Act, 2000, the issue of crimes in Cyberspace in India has been addressed very smartly, yet, the proper implementation of the Act is still lacking. The need for efficient cyber laws is very evident, considering the current scenario, but individuals should also be aware of such threats while surfing the internet.


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