Every so often, something happens that shakes up the status quo and warrants a closer look at how safe the internet really is. The internet is a vast new frontier on which human beings are communicating like never before in history. With it comes the debates of how regulated this space should be, what should be the line between free speech and regulated speech. However, in light of recent events, we have been forced to wonder how to protect ourselves online. Online harassment has been spoken about extensively, yet keeps throwing us new challenges with its dilution of the line between public and private spaces.
It is especially disconcerting considering how many young impressionable minors are increasingly accessing the internet. It is more important than ever before to protect young people from the trauma and pain of online harassment. Considering that the internet is now essential to our lives, logging off is no longer an option. However, it might be helpful to keep updated about the laws that exist to protect us and understand the legal overview of cyber-crimes. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you ever feel victimized on social media:
What are some laws that protect me?
The laws that apply in any public space or laws that apply specifically with respect to abuse in online spaces. The former falls under the Indian Penal Code and the latter falls under the IT Act of 2000. In the IT Act, the gender of the victim doesn’t matter, it is the behavior that deems it an offense of not.
- Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code: This law deals with sexual harassment, and covers showing a woman obscene materials without her consent.
- Section 509 of the IPC: This section states that if anyone makes gestures or statements with an intent to ‘outrage the modesty of a woman’ or infringe on her privacy, with the sole intention to be witnessed by the victim, it is a crime.
- Section 354C of the IPC: This section deals with voyeurism and decrees that watching, or attempting to record women when they are engaged in private activities is a crime.
- Section 354D of the IPC: This section deals specifically with stalking and criminalizes repeated attempts at contacting a woman or following her either online or in physical spaces, without her consent.
- Section 294 of the IPC: This is the section of the law that prohibits any obscene remarks or gestures made in a public place.
- Section 503 of the IPC: This law punishes threats to physically harm a person’s body, reputation or property.
- Section 66E of the IT Act: This applies in cases of violation of privacy, sharing of private images of someone using an electronic medium without their consent.
- Section 66C and 66 D of the IT Act: This law applies to identity theft. If someone has started a fake profile, hacked or account, or impersonated you in any way in order to cheat someone, then these laws would apply.
- Section 67 and Section 67A of the IT Act: This law criminalizes sharing obscene images or material containing sexual acts using an electronic medium.
What falls under the definition of crime?
There is no legally defined limit for when something becomes a legal offense. In the first instance, it might be helpful to report abuse to the platform on which the harassment took place. If that doesn’t work, or if there are repeated violations, then you might want to consider taking legal resources. Broadly speaking, if you’ve witnessed or are facing any of the below situations, they’re likely crimes:
- Someone is threatening to release morphed, or private pictures of you without your consent.
- Someone is abusing you online, which may or may not include racist, casteist, or other hateful epithets.
- Someone is stalking you, and repeatedly sending you messages on any platform, despite you having told them to stay away.
- Someone is sending you obscene material without your consent.
- Someone is threatening to harm you in any way physically.
- Someone has stolen your identity, hacked your account or is impersonating you online.
How can I complain?
You can complain about approaching the Cyber Crime unit of your local police station. Unlike other crimes, cybercrimes are deemed to have Global Jurisdiction and can be taken up by any police station regardless of whether it is a station serving your locality. If you cannot access a Cyber Crime unit, you can also file an FIR at your local police station In addition to this, the Women and Child Ministry have also launched a dedicated cyber cell to aid women who are facing abuse online.
Before you file a complaint, make sure you have collected as much evidence as you can, including profile names, screenshots, screenshots of the URLs, Email headers, and anything else that is relevant to the case. You will be required to furnish the originals of these documents, in both hard and soft copy.
No conversation about harassment of course would go anywhere without confronting the inherent biases, the mind-sets, the bystander effect, and the social structures that enable such violence to thrive. So let’s do our part, no matter what gender we are, to speak up, to say something if we see something, and to envision a world where we don’t need to be locked up in locker rooms.
However, the big challenge that we are facing today is that the law hasn’t kept up with the times. The internet is too vast, has moved too fast to effectively regulate. The nature of evidence considered, the process of reporting, the understanding of the complex social structures it creates hasn’t caught up with the times. At the UPES School of Law, we offer dedicated courses on Cyberlaw, infusing tech education with legal knowledge to ensure that we create a pool of lawyers who can better understand and protect the victims of online harassment.
The world today needs many attorneys who can understand the predicament of victims, empathize with them, and articulate the conundrums in legal language. We hope that with our forward-thinking programs, we’re able to bridge that gap. For more information, log on to upes.ac.in.