This article is written by Surbhi Jindal, a law student at Dr B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonipat, Haryana. The article attempts to discuss the legal aspects relating to the dark web in India.
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Imagine that on one fine day, you find yourself in an urgent need of money. You are ready to do anything to gain that money, even if it is much more complicated. You ask for help from your friend. Your friend knows that you are an expert in data hacking. He doesn’t lend you the money but suggests you use the dark web. He explains how he can earn money by doing what he knows on the dark web.
You are convinced of the idea of earning money this way, but on your part, you want to know what exactly the dark web is? You are even desirous to know whether accessing the dark web is legal in India and what are the laws regulating the dark web? Of course, you want to save yourself from future problematic hassles and at the same time earn money.
Now, you are surfing on the net, finding answers to various questions that are popping in your mind. Don’t you think you require help to make an informed decision? Don’t worry; I am here to help you out. This article attempts to answer the legal aspect relating to the dark web in India. When using the dark web is illegal, what are the ways to regulate the use in India? But before you move forward, there are some exciting stats made available on tech Jury’s blog. We will discuss them in the next part of the article.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is a small part of the deep web. Both are different from the surface web. Let us understand this by an example.
You see an iceberg floating on the ocean. The above portion that you can see above the water is called the surface web. The surface web is easily accessible to all on the internet. These are the websites or search engines that are open to all. Examples of Surface web include Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. The surface web is almost 4% of the whole internet.
When you dive into the water, you will see the portion just below the water and above the deepest iceberg, i.e., in the middle of that whole iceberg. The middle part is known as the deep web. Deep webs are not easily accessible on the search engines since Google does not index these sites. It would be best to browse explicitly and have a unique username/id and password to access that particular website. Examples of deep web include Manupatra, LexisNexis, bank details, etc.
At the bottom of the iceberg exists the dark web with which our article is mainly concerned with. The dark web is that part of internet search that is not easily accessible through the traditional searches like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. While you use the dark web, a high degree of anonymity is provided. It is accessible through platforms such as The Onion Ring (TOR) and 12P, generally operated by public organizations.
In TOR, the data is encrypted like the layers in an onion. This encryption keeps the privacy of the users safe. The dark web is a part of the deep web where both illegal and legal activities are conducted. Due to the high degree of anonymity and inability to trace the person’s IP address, it remains the central place for the criminals to promote their illegal activities such as drug trafficking, dealing in the trade of pistols, guns, firearms, etc.
What do the statistics say on the usage of the dark web in India?
- India has the biggest marketplace of dark web users as compared to Australia and South America. India makes up 26% of all the country’s users using the dark web.
- According to ZDNet, a hacking group known as ShinyHunters tried to sell the data of 73 million users on the dark web. It breached the security of around ten organizations, including online dating app Zoosk, Printing service Chatbooks, South Korean fashion platform Social Share, etc.
- According to a Cybersecurity firm Cyble, around half a million zoom accounts were hacked in April 2020 and were sold at less than one rupee each.
- Arxiv found out that around 70.6% of users were male who used the dark web as compared to only 29.4% of females using the dark web.
- According to the Arxiv, If we take the category-wise statistics, we can summarise it as below from the table.
Percentage of users using the dark web
- While the dark web is certainly not that bad to surf on, there is still a danger, and it isn’t a safe place. Some sites are legitimate, and users can benefit from them. But let us understand the legality of accessing the dark web in India in detail.
Legality of accessing the dark web in India
Yes, accessing the dark web is legal in India. There is nothing that can stop you from using it. Above we understood about the dark web and its functioning. After that, we understood how accessing the dark web is considered to be legal in India.
Often there is a misconception that the dark web can be used only for criminal activities. That is true, but partially. The dark web has many advantages as well. People use the dark web to read books, gain information, have private chats that they do not want other people to have access to, and even for legitimate purposes by the activists, journalists, and other government agencies to trace the crime.
But the question arises: if illegal activities like drug trafficking, child pornography takes place, then why isn’t this banned, and why is it considered legal in India to access the website?
Reasons behind the legal status of the dark web in India
Accessing the dark web is legal in India. The Indian government does not recognize it as an illegal activity, because it is just another part of the internet that you are surfing, through TOR, Freenet, etc. However, this doesn’t mean you are free to do whatever you want. You should undoubtedly maintain a few limits while using the dark web.
One should remember if you decide to jump into the world of the dark web, be sure that one wrong click can put your life at stake. Most of the shadiest crimes occur on the dark web, and there exists an excellent line of difference between what is legal and what is illegal while you use the dark web.
Has the dark web aided the law and its enforcement agencies?
Also, our Indian Constitution gives us the Right to access the Internet under Article 21. The court essentially included that this right is the basic infrastructure of freedom of speech and expression. Due to this, we cannot stop a person from accessing the website since it would result in the deprivation of their Freedom of speech and expression.
Since we know that accessing the dark web is legal in India, it poses specific challenges for law enforcement agencies. Apart from this, India does not have stringent laws to govern cyberspace in India. With a lot of loopholes prevailing in the laws of our country, the dark web brings in specific unique challenges. We have only six sections in the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to cybercrimes in India.
People have a habit of clicking on the links that they come across while surfing on the internet. But the dark web isn’t a thing to be used carelessly. One single click can land you in jail. An article by the Indian Express explains how five students from Mumbai were caught while they were dealing in the purchase of drugs through the medium of the dark web. These five students had procured 1,400 LSD dots priced at 70 lakhs.
A US friend, a dark web syndicate member, had placed an order with a cartel from a western European country on their behalf. He gave the address of Mumbai, where the LSD dots were delivered. These five students were arrested after the parcels were delivered because, according to Mumbai DCP (Anti Narcotics Cell) Shivdeep Lande, making an arrest is a difficult task due to the complex structure of the dark web version. Also, features of anonymity are offered to a great extent, making it difficult to trace the criminals.
The dark web originated in the mid-1990s by the United States Naval Research laboratory employees to protect US intelligence communications. Though developed with a bonafide intention, it, in the latter part, became a place for criminals to shoot their ill-minded activities.
When is the dark web considered to be illegal in India?
Indeed, till now, you’ve got it that the dark web is not illegal, but it is also not an entirely legal entity. Various activities can land you in jail, like child pornography, buying guns, pistols, rifles, drugs, etc.
I would illustrate this with a simple analogy. First of all, understand, the dark web is not illegal. Still, you can land up in jail. It is the activity or the intent of a person that is taken into account while using the dark web. It only decides whether you will land up in some legal hassles or you are free to use it without facing any problematic issues.
Now, the analogy goes like this. If you keep a licensed gun with you at your home, that’s not illegal. But if you, with the same weapon, shoot someone, that is illegal. You will be charged under either Section 307 or Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Similarly, the legality of the dark web depends upon its use by you. If you do illegal things, you commit unlawful activity. And no law in India will protect you from the sins that you committed. For instance, you indulge yourselves in promoting or watching child pornography. Are you thinking of saving yourself from this? But sorry, you are not going to be saved. This is a crime in India, hence in this sense, over here, the dark web is illegal.
You aren’t even allowed to facilitate the trade of drugs, guns, pistols, etc., because this is illegal. You need to understand that there exists a fine line of difference between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ while using the dark web. Sometimes, people cross the limit of revolving around legal activities. They even do not notice how and what a blunder they have committed. So, one needs to be very careful while using the dark web in any part of the world.
Therefore, after concluding what is legal and illegal while using the dark web, let’s have some legal knowledge and look at the sections to know what section you will be charged for committing various illicit activities.
What is considered to be illegal while using the dark web?
- Child pornography is a serious crime punishable under Section 67(B) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Section 14 and 15 of POCSO Act, 2012. These are the sections that exclusively deal with the crimes of pornography related to children.
- Apart from this, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 describes the provisions for offences committed against minor girls. Section 366(A) deals with inducing, forcing, and seducing a minor girl for illicit intercourse shall be liable for imprisonment of 10 years and may also be liable to pay a fine.
- Section 372 and 373 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the buying and selling of girls for prostitution. We have seen such kinds of illegal activities taking place. They directly or indirectly come under the ambit of human trafficking. Human trafficking is illegal.
- A lot of illegal activities related to child pornography are committed on the dark web. If you are traced promoting such actions, then you considerably land yourself in trouble. Apart from child pornography, buying guns and drugs, promoting illicit material is illegal.
- Under Section 24 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, whosoever engages in dealing with narcotic drugs outside India is liable to be punished under this Act. Now, suppose a person engages in external dealing in drugs on the dark web, then that would certainly be punishable even if the dark web is not illegal but the activity that you commit is illegal. Refer back to the case where five students were arrested while indulging in buying LSD dots drugs.
Way ahead to curb illegal activities on the dark web
We cannot deny the fact that India lacks stringent laws. Also, while some of them exist, the problem remains in the enforcement. A comprehensive legislative policy needs to be adopted. Because this is the only way to keep track of illegal activities, while it is not certainly easy to control the activities of citizens, India can control the access to the dark web by its citizens.
India has yet to go through rigorous hard work to control the activities of people. Presently, India does not have any law specifically dedicated to maintaining the use of VPNs. Here is what other countries have done.
- Countries like Iraq, Turkmenistan, and Belarus have entirely banned the use of VPN services.
- UAE, Russia, and China have restricted access to VPN services. In the UAE, only banks and similar organizations have access but it is highly bound to be used in personal capacity. In China and Russia, the services can be used only for those approved by the government.
Similarly, it is suggested that India should implement such a system where these freely available VPNs are banned. CyberBlogIndia, in its blog, indicates that the government should create an authority under Chapter-VI of the Information Technology Act, 2000 where the government may create a mandatory charge for VPN registration.
In an article by Indian Express, we got to know the opinions of two cyber law experts:
- Karnika Seth, a Supreme Court Advocate and a cyber law expert believes it becomes difficult to prove a particular charge due to the availability of self-destructive mailboxes and proxy servers that help people in creating fake IDs. Since the real identities of people are not disclosed, it becomes difficult to trace them. Hence, there is a need to amend the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
- However, cyber law expert Vicky Shah believes that instead of running behind the need for newer laws, we need to have specialized police trained who know the changing cyber trends.
- This recommendation remains at the core-heart of every problem, i.e., raising awareness of the dark web. We should try to equip more trained officers who can mainly work in unclear web evidence and activity.
Here we come to the end of this article. Now we can safely conclude that accessing the dark web is not at all illegal in India. But if you conduct illegal activities through the medium of the dark web, then that is certainly illegal.
India needs strong cyber laws and provisions in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Apart from this, an exclusive legislation is demanded to curb the menace of increasing crimes that pose threat to Indian democracy.
I hope that now you have certainly got knowledge relating to access to the dark web in India. Now you probably won’t go and access the dark web if you want to live an easy life without any problematic hassles from the world of the dark web.
- Regulating the Dark Web: Challenges & Opportunities – The Cyber Blog India
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