By Shrutika Garg, Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith.

The technological era has led to so many changes in the lifestyle of people. But it has also opened doors for criminal offenders. Earlier, there was a crime called stalking, which meant following someone, or annoying them to cause trouble. This stalking was seen in the small colonies, cities, etc. In this digital era, when people can easily reach any corner of the world, this crime has taken a different form, called Cyber Stalking. Cyberstalking is the use of Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organisation. It may include defaming the person, libel or slander, or imposing false accusations with a desire to control, intimidate or influence the victim. Women and children are the biggest targets of such offenders.

We often see that pictures of women are morphed and uploaded on porn sites. Thousands of fake ids are being operated on social sites; sometimes they even circulate the personal information, address of the victim, in order to cause harassment. Some are even blackmailed in order to get sexual favours. Cyber Stalking doesn’t cause physical harm but may cause mental trauma and disturbance, which may give rise to suicidal tendencies in the victim. The offenders of Cyber Stalking are people with psychological disorders, or frustrated lovers who got rejected and habitual offenders. In most of the cases, cyberstalking is perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim. It may be done with the motive of  revenge, jealousy, righteousness, bigotry, fear, anger, to get the attention of the target or others, etc.

Ironically, Indian Government doesn’t believe in the principle of “Prevention is better than cure”. The development of cyber stalking laws in India lies in some cases, which necessitated the inclusion of related provisions. In 2003, a woman named Seema Khanna, aged 32, received a series of emails from a guy, asking to send nude photos of her or to pay 1 lakh to him. The accused threatened the victim that he would post her morphed pictures on a site along with her personal information. Also, he intimidated her that he would put those morphed pictures in her neighbourhood, i.e., South-west Delhi. The man mailed her the pictures which she had in her mailbox. Also, after some days, he posted those pictures via post to threaten her. This forced her to file a complaint in the cyber cell. The man was traced and it was found that he was mailing her from a cyber cafe in South Delhi, and knew a lot about her. He was punished under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code,But this only refers to word, gesture or act intended to insult modesty of a woman. But when same things are done on internet, then there is no mention about it in the said section. None of the conditions mentioned in the Section cover cyber stalking. The Information Technology Act, 2000 was also applied, but later the police admitted that it was not enough to deal with cyber stalking.

Ritu Kohli’s case is the first case in India dealing with cyber stalking. The case in which issues were raised as to what is cyber stalking? Why don’t we have laws regarding it?  Recently, the Delhi Police arrested Manish Kathuria the culprit of the case. In the said case, Manish was stalking a person called Ritu Kohli on the Net by illegally chatting on the website www.mirc.com with her name. Manish was regularly chatting under the identity of Ritu Kohli on the said Website, using obscene and obnoxious language, was distributing her residence telephone number and inviting chatter to chat with her on telephone. Consequently Ritu Kohli was getting obscene calls from different chatters from various parts of India and abroad. She reported the matter to the police and the Delhi Police swung into action. The police had registered the case under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code for outraging the modesty of Ritu Kohli. Ritu Kolhi’s case was an alarm to the Government, to make laws regarding the aforesaid crime and regarding protection of victims under the same. As a result Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2008 (ITAA 2008) states

[vii], “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc:

Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device-

(a) any  information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any  information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages (Inserted vide ITAA 2008) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

In 2013, Indian Parliament made amendments to the Indian Penal Code introducing cyberstalking as a criminal offence. Cyber stalker has been defined as a man who follows or contacts a woman, despite clear indication of disinterest to such contact by the woman, or monitoring of use of internet or electronic communication of a woman. A man committing the offence of stalking would be liable for imprisonment upto three years for the first offence, and shall also be liable to fine and for any subsequent conviction would be liable for imprisonment upto five years and with fine.

There are many factors due to which cyber stalking cases go unnoticed, unreported and denied of disposal of justice. One factor is the lack of awareness among people on cyber stalking laws. Also, the police is reluctant to take up such cases. It was inferred that police are more likely to take action when they see threats that are physical. “They’re more comfortable with the traditional laws for the Physical world like the newer ‘Nirbhaya sections’.” The IT Act’s Section 66A gave some protection against cyber-stalking, but this section has recently been struck down by the Supreme Court in March. The technology has also proved to be a boon for the cyber criminals. They are aware about all kinds of hacks, and they can easily escape without getting their identity revealed. This poses hardship for the authority to catch such criminals. Women who are victims of such offences, generally don’t seek for redressal in such cases due to family pressure, fear of leaking of information, etc.

Recently, the NDA government is considering changes to the Evidence Act to make it easier to deal with cases of cyber crime for reforming the electronic evidences to be used in Cyber Crime in the era of mobile and Whatsapp. There had been a 50 percent rise in cases of cyber crime in 2014 compared with 2013. There is a strict need for reforms in the IT Act along with the  need of ‘vigilantes’ among people to deal with these crimes committed through the ‘dark web.’