Cyber Stalking: The Wild Child Of Internet

Posted on June 23, 2012 in Specials

By Rabia Mehta:

You are not safe today. No matter where you are. No matter where you go. You are being followed. You are being watched. And, depending on how much of “you” is etched on the Internet, the chances are, you are never alone.

Our world today is almost without boundaries, thanks to the World Wide Web. We are more connected to the person sitting on the other side of the world than we were 10 years ago. Everything is just a click away. Internet has made almost everything available to us. And, in exchange, it has made our life available on the Internet, accessible to everyone. Sometimes, this ease of access can go awry. The incidences of internet crimes have increased exponentially all over the world. These crimes may be against an individual or against a business entity or organization. Such crimes include hacking, identity theft, cyber stalking, cyber bullying, spamming, and spreading computer viruses or malware.

The idea of being watched or followed is terrifying. It becomes more so when there is no tangible information about the offender, owing to the anonymity that the Internet offers its users. Cyber stalking is using the Internet, email, or other such IT media to stalk or harass an individual, group or other such entity. It includes spreading rumours, making threats, and posting personal or intimate information online. It is an invasion of personal space and privacy that leaves the victim intimidated and vulnerable. It becomes even more terrifying when the victim is a child. In fact, the majority of identified victims are women or children. Many countries have stringent anti-cyber stalking laws that punish offenders with jail and/or a fine. In the United States, the agency that investigates cybercrime is the Secret Service. India has taken huge strides in the past few years by organizing dedicated cybercrime cells within the police force and the CBI.

In India, the law does not directly identify cyber stalking, but provisions are in place against harassment or the intrusion of privacy. Section 72 of the Internet Technology Act, 2000, says:

Breach of confidentiality and privacy: Save as otherwise provided in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, any person who, in pursuant of any of the powers conferred under this Act, rules or regulations made there under, has secured access to any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material without the consent of the person concerned discloses such electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material to any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.

The Internet Technology Act (amended 2008) further states in Section 72A that:

“…any person including an intermediary who, while providing services under the terms of lawful contract, has secured access to any material containing personal information about another person, with the intent to cause or knowing that he is likely to cause wrongful loss or wrongful gain discloses, without the consent of the person concerned, or in breach of a lawful contract, such material to any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with a fine which may extend to five lakh rupees, or with both.”

However, this law is directed towards those individuals that provide services under “lawful contract” and is often used as a guideline. Therefore, cyber stalking is usually punished under Section 441 of the Indian Penal Code, which covers criminal trespass. If the victim is a woman, Section 509 of the IPC, which covers “word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman”, is applicable. The first publicized case of cyber stalking in India was that of Ritu Kohli, who was stalked by Manish Kathuria in New Delhi. Kathuria was arrested and charged under Section 509 of the IPC.

It is indeed scary to think that you or your family is being stalked online. The only way to prevent being a victim is by using your common sense to control and limit your web presence. This includes not sharing any personal information online, especially on social networking sites. Never give out any passwords to anyone. Abstain from using a gender-specific screen name or email ID. Don’t be swayed by websites that offer free goods or services for filling out a profile — nothing is ever truly free; if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Monitor and use parental controls if your children use the web. Install a good anti-virus program that detects malware. Remember that an individual’s IP address is usually traceable, so save any untoward communication that you receive.

The biggest step you can take, however, is to notify the authorities if you are a victim. Only then will stricter laws be made to control this ever-growing crime.

Rabia Mehta was born in Bombay but raised in the US. She studied Industrial/Organizational Psychology but she plans on pursuing a second career in the near future. An avid reader, she currently dabbles with writing and editing, and devotes her spare time to her beloved pets. She calls the San Francisco Bay Area home but travels to Asia frequently. The article was previously published at Indian Law Radar.