Published On: Mon, Jan 18th, 2016

The cyber law series: How to fight sexual predators and persistent online stalkers

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Untitled-1-copy13-624x351Journalist Shweta Chaturvedi famously fought an online troll who launched a campaign against her on Twitter in June last year. Spurred on by the quashing of Section 66A, the primary section under the Information Technology Act, 2000 which deals with cyberstalking, the troll (and several copycats) forced abuse on Chaturvedi that same day. She refused to give in, turning to ‘offline’ laws and filing a police complaint against them. The abuse stopped.
Cyber stalking against women invariably takes the form of sexual harassment. As it happens, despite the quashing of Section 66A, there are a whole host of laws which deal with stalking and harassment against wome
1. Attempts to contact: Repeated attempts to contact the victim or to forcibly start a personal interaction is punishable under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This section, which was added to the IPC by the famous Criminal Law Ordinance passed after the Nirbhaya rape case, is every cyberstalking victim’s best friend.
2. Monitoring online activity: A person monitoring a woman’s use of the internet, electronic mail or any other form of electronic communication is also penalised under Section 354D of the IPC. This will cover the trolls who follow you everywhere, from your e-mail to Facebook to Twitter.
3. Fake profiles: One common method used by stalkers is to create a false profile of the woman, containing her pictures, sometimes morphed, and handing out her phone number and home address, inviting internet users to call or visit her. This sort of harassment is covered under Section 66C of the IT Act, which deals with identity theft.
4. Obscene images: Harassment using obscene pictures can take many forms. The stalker might repeatedly send such pictures to the victim, through email, twitter, Facebook, etc. The stalker might hack into the victim’s account and post such pictures. This is covered under Section 67 and 67A of the IT Act and Section 292 of the IPC. The hacking will also be covered by Section 43 and 66 of the IT Act
5. Obscene images of the victim: Another form of harassment is when the stalker spreads images of the victim that are obscene in their original form. This could be photographs taken without the victim’s knowledge; by a hidden camera or even her webcam, by hacking into her PC. This is covered by section 66E of the IT Act and Section 354 C of the IPC. The very taking of such a photograph, even if it hasn’t been shared, is punishable.

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The primary problem with cybercrimes is the lack of evidence. It becomes imperative, then, that the victim preserves all instances of harassment that constitute proof. Here’s what you should know:
1. Don’t delete: Don’t immediately erase the stalker’s mails, photos, etc. Saving his online activity is essential to enable investigators to track him down, and collect enough evidence against him. For example, if a person has hacked into your Facebook account and put up pictures, instead of deleting the images, try turning your privacy settings to ‘only me’.
2. Take screenshots/print-outs: You can do this using your phone as well. Take print-outs if you can. Cyberstalkers can very easily wipe out any evidence of their online activity, which makes it doubly important that you preserve evidence.
3. Report the website in question: Most websites have a mechanism of reporting abuse. While this might help with a wary stalker, most seasoned offenders are not deterred by it. They simply create new accounts and continue with the abuse. However, there are other benefits to this mechanism. For one, the websites are obliged under the IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 to remove the offending content within 36 hours of receiving a complaint. In addition, under these rules, the websites also have to retain all information relating to such complaints for a period of 90 days. The information with the website will prove critical when an investigation is launched.
4. Report the crime: Cyber crimes need specialised investigation, and a First Information Report is the first step in enabling this.
The well-regarded south Indian singer, Chinmayi Sripada, was trolled in 2012. She appealed to her fans for help and was able to trace the IP addresses of her two principal stalkers. Using this information, she filed a complaint with the police. Many cyberstalkers are so comfortably cloaked in anonymity that they don’t bother to fake IP addresses, which are very difficult to trace. And the internet offers a variety of solutions to trace real IP addresses. One victim used the simple method of creating a blog and lured his stalkers to it. Using the stalker’s activity on the blog, he obtained his IP address. Once the location was narrowed down, with some cross-referencing and research, he caught the stalker, his son’s friend. In another case, the IP address led the victim to her own office. Once you know who the person is, it becomes easy to take action without having to run to the courts or police stations. For instance, if the person is from work, a complaint can be filed with company. Incidentally, under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, every workplace is required to have an internal complaints mechanism to deal with complaints of sexual harassment.
But the primary impediment to investigating and prosecuting online stalking is rooted in the victim’s hesitation in taking on her stalker. All this does is encourage malefactors.
The author is a lawyer with a specialisation in cyber laws and has co-authored books on the subject.
The next part of the series will examine online financial transactions.

Source From Firstpost

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