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The internet is a different world altogether, a world that keeps changing and updating faster than change itself. This world of technology is causing a transformation on the society by driving growth, facilitating connection of people and providing to the world, a medium of communication and cooperation. It is evident as to why the internet has had such a dramatic growth over the past decade.
This article would discuss the different pitfalls of the cyber space, the impact of technology on the youth of the United Kingdom, different preventive mechanisms prescribed by laws and policy guidelines of the UK to address cyber bullying. Cyberspace is a virtual medium on the internet having the major function of forming a network that would facilitate the process of communication. It is the transforming business that keeps the growth spurt very efficient and effective in its own manner. It has helped economies opening up their markets, reduce the optimum cost of investment in commerce and collaterally even enabling people to benefit out of their business while they are on the move. Cyber space has been a very promotional platform of fresh thoughts, innovative business models, increasing input of ideas and an enormous source of growth. With all these amazing characteristics to cyber space, it also proves to be the devil’s workshop. Unfortunately, though the UK economy strives to help increase the efficiency of its people using the cyber space, there are risks. An increasing number of adversaries are hunting for opportunities to use the cyberspace as a platform to steal, destroy or compromise very critical data on the internet. As a step to avoid these threats, United Kingdom Government laid down plans for measures to keep the users of UK safe from cyber-bullying.
CYBER BULLYING – A CRIME?
Cybercrimes contain all criminal offences that are committed with the aid of communication devices. This can be the Internet, the telephone line and the mobile network and so on. Cyberbullying, on the other hand is the use of electronic or online communications by someone to threaten, intimidate, harass, defame or even maliciously contact another person without their consent. Both types of bullying and cyberbullying may happen simultaneously but the advantage with cyberbullying is that it leaves a record as proof of the activity which would prove to be an evidence in future.There is no legal definition of cyberbullying in the UK law but there are other laws within the meaning of which cyberbullying and harassment on social media or other platforms be brought under. Moreover, there is no specific anti-cyberbullying legislation in UK. Although, since 1998, the law of the UK has mandated that state schools are bound by law to have anti-bullying policies in their place. Independent schools, too have laid down requirements of such nature, since 2003. And despite these unclear applications, cyberbullying in itself is not an offence in the UK. The provisions of the Protection from Harassment Act (PHA), however, prohibits individuals from pursuing a course of conduct that either amounts to harassment, or that they should know amounts to harassment. And as per the provisions of Sec.8 of the PHA, every individual has a right to be free from harassment and any one pursuing a course of conduct that amounts to harassment in any form within the meaning of Sec.1, would amount to an offence. It is within the meaning of this section that the offence of cyberbullying is construed under. When the perpetrator uses a technology or social media as a medium od conduct to harass, stalk or abuse another person, it is said to be harassment within the provisions of Sec.8.
The Teaching and Learning International Survey carried out every 5 years, depicted an increase in bullying in the schools of England. These acts indicated to be driven by students ranging from online bullying, trolling to harassment and other problems on social media. The survey further revealed that 14% of students faced issues on the basis of hurtful material posted by other students compared to an international average of 2%. Further, around 27% pupils received unwanted contact online, every week in the mode of cyber bullying as compared to an international average of 3%.The lack of regulation with regard to this aspect of cyber space was cited as the reason for such happenings, leaving the schools with the responsibility of finding their own response. It has also been observed that the misuse of social media, hinders the learning process apart from proving to be an emotional harm and hence suggested that it be addressed at a wider level.Cybersmile Foundation, a help centre to increase awarness, had performed a research to find out the kind of misuse happening in cyberspace of UK. Their statistics show the following data:
29.6% of respondents aged 25-34 have undergone homophobic abuse online.
31.5% of respondents aged 18-24 have seen bullying on the basis of religion, online.
40.6% of respondents between the age group 18-24 had seen racist abuse online.
55.1% of all respondents have faced abuse on the social media: Facebook.
Kinds of cyberbullying :
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying, but the term has a wide scope to contain within itself different forms of cyberbullying that people face. Some common methods of cyberbullying to which people fall a prey could be categorised as follows:
When a person is subjected to abusive messages or efforts to contact them or a group of people via an online portal, it is online harassment extended within the meaning of Sec.2 of Protection from Harassment Act, 1997.
When a person is called out, labelled or shamed for any of their acts in the past, by the nature of their being, by the way they dress or by virtue of their sex, race or any other characteristic amounts to online shaming.
Keeping someone away from certain activities online like groups, games etc.
Other activities falling within the meaning of cyberbullying are trolling someone on social media or other chat rooms, building up some sites or pages that corners a particular person, encouraging someone to self-harm by way of trolling or spreading hate against the person or sometimes even taking part in an abusive poll.
The act of pressurising young children to take part in sending images or content that are sexual would also amount to cyberbullying.
THE LAWS IN UK :
OECD’s report on the Life in Digital Era, reflected an alarming information on the problems of cyber-bullying present in the schools of England. While reflecting on the way of life in the digital age in UK, the OECD report stated that the level of inequality of uses is relatively high, which means that not everyone makes full use of the breadth of possible online activities. In addition, the risks for children are substantial, with 37% of extreme Internet users among 15-year-olds, the second highest share in the OECD.
This report of the OECD depicted the fact that people are prone to implicit risk of being exposed to cyber-bullying on the digital platform, especially children. The governments in UK have repeated the general principle that what is illegal offline, is illegal online. The Government, Parliament and The Judiciary of UK have invested a lot of thought and time in carefully keeping the world of digital network a safe place.
A New Code :
According to Sec.103 of the Digital Economy Act, 2017 , the Secretary of the State is required to issue guidance to the concerned social media providers with regard to the kind of action which is appropriate to be taken against:
Insulting behaviour, or
Behaviour likely to intimate or humiliate an individual.
The Conservative Government added this to the Digital Economy Bill during its final stages.
A NEED FOR SPECIFIC LAW?
Some of the laws used to prosecute online harassment predate the widespread use of the internet and social media. In recent past, a number of parliamentary committees have investigated this question, and come to different conclusions. The House of Lords Communications Committee published a report on Social media and criminal offences in 2014, which concluded that although much of the relevant law predated social media, it was still “generally appropriate”:
“Our overall conclusion is that the criminal law in this area, almost entirely enacted before the invention of social media, is generally appropriate for the prosecution of offences committed using the social media.”
But owing to the changing conditions and rapid increase in technology along with threats, the government has by virtue of the Computer Misuse Legislation and other provisions, have set up a wing under the National Crime Agency which focus on critical cyber incidents to take action on the criminals for their activities. Even other departments of the country such as UK Police, Europol, FBI and The US Secret Service, put in their actions with regards to cybercrimes.
Despite all actions being taken owing to past incidents, cyber bullying is still a very prevalent activity across the world on social media. Rape threats, revenge porn, trolling, harassment and other activities still continue to terror the lives of people despite the country striving to keep its online platform a safe space. With growing advancements and infrastructural developments in technology, it is the need of the hour to ensure that the acts of people are kept on a leash to prevent people from adverse conditions and to ensure a safe cyber space for everyone.
Reshmitha G. Sarma is a student of Final year – B.Com., LLB (hons.), SASTRA Deemed University. She can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org
2020 had many surprises for us. It brought in the century’s biggest health hazard, economic slowdown and upsurge of economy for a sector which survived on illegal. data mining, data pooling and data selling. Often people mistake that data mining, data pooling etc are connected with financial crimes. But it is not so always. These are connected with cyber stalking also. There are hundreds of materials on internet which may suggest that cyber stalking is cyber bullying or cyber stalking is the ONLY form of cyber harassment. Unfortunately, this is also not true.
Cyber stalking basically is a criminal activity which is from the family of offences of privacy infringement. In India cyber stalking was not recognized as an offence prior to Criminal Law amendment Act, 2013. In fact stalking as well as cyber stalking was considered as within the meaning of eve teasing, a term which was neither recognized by the Indian Penal Code. However, in case the victim needed to stress on the constant persuading and monitoring by the perpetrator, the police would look for solace mostly in S.509 Indian Penal Code, sometimes coupled with provisions addressing criminal intimidation including anonymous criminal intimidation. S.503 of the Indian Penal Code addresses Criminal intimidation and it says as follows: “Whoever threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of any one in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threat, commits criminal intimidation…..Explanations: A threat to injure the reputation of any deceased person in whom the person threatened is interested, is within this section.” S.506 speaks about punishment to criminal intimidation and it says as follows: “Whoever commits the offence of criminal intimidation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both;…..If threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, etc – and if the threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, or to cause the destruction of any property by fire, or to cause an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, of with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or to impute unchastity to a woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.” S.507 of the IPC discusses about anonymous criminal intimidation and says as follows : “Whoever commits the offence of criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication, or having taken precaution to conceal the name or abode of the person from whom the threat comes, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, in addition to the punishment provided for the offence by the last preceding section.”. S.509 IPC speaks about punishment for word, gesture or act intended to harm the modesty of women and says as follows: Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and also with fine.”
What do we understand from these provisions keeping the concept of ‘eve teasing’ in the forefront which is reflected in S.509 IPC?
It necessarily includes certain kinds of words and behaviors, gestures which make the woman feel uncomfortable, insulted, annoyed, irritated and above all, threatened about her own safety.
That written or spoken word is uttered or expressed in writing especially with an intention that the victim sees it and feels uncomfortable and threatened.
The privacy of the woman is infringed or threatened to be infringed.
Now, how the privacy infringement can attract the concept of cyber stalking? Even though Justice Puttaswamy vs Union of India & others, have emphasized on right to privacy, the law makers have not yet included this as an inherent right in the constitution. It may be noted that while the final judgement of the Puttaswamy case came in 2018, the petitioner approached the court as early as in 2012 . This was the year that saw the gruesome gang rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi and following the same, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 which introduced a bunch of gender centric laws including S,354D of the Indian Penal Code which addresses stalking including cyber stalking. Let us now see what does S.354D IPC offer to address cyber stalking: it says
“(1) Any man who—follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking; Provided that such conduct shall not amount to stalking if the man who pursued it proves that—it was pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime and the man accused of stalking had been entrusted with the responsibility of prevention and detection of crime by the State; or it was pursued under any law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any law; or in the particular circumstances such conduct was reasonable and justified.
(2) Whoever commits the offence of stalking shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine; and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
This makes it clear that stalking happens when the woman feels threatened for her personal safety for the repeated persuading by the stalker who can not be a female (as the provision suggests). Here men are mandatorily seen as perpetrators and women are the victims. This behavior includes monitoring of the cyber usage of the victim as well. A plain reading of the Section would suggest that cyber stalking may also include multiple online offences including unauthored access to device, data, data network, email, social media profile of the victims etc which are addressed under S.43 (Penalty and damage to computer, computer system etc), 65 (punishment for tampering with computer source document) and 66 (punishment for computer related offences)of the Information Technology Act , 2000 (amended in 2008) and S.66C (punishment for identity theft) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008) etc. Cyber stalking may or may not include cyber bullying which is not addressed by any law in India. It may necessarily include data mining. Even this is also not considered as criminal offence because data mining may be used for positive purposes also (consider prospective employers mining data about prospective employees: It is for this reason that several social networking sites like LinkedIn, FaceBook, ResearchGate etc allow users to upload information about their work, work experience etc). As a continuing effort to create threat and sense of uncomfortableness, the stalker may keep on sending text messages, memes, voice messages sexted messages etc. All these are broadly covered under the first paragraph of S.354D, but which message may constitute criminality individually, is not mentioned therein. The behavior which attracts the criminality within the meaning of cyber stalking, may also include creation of fake profile of the perpetrator himself or an impersonating profile of the victim so that he can contact the friends of the victim for monitoring the victim. But S.354D does not explicitly mention about this and this is the reason that many stakeholders feel this very behavior IS cyber stalking. The correct answer is NO. This actually constitutes a separate criminal liability which is partly addressed by the above mentioned provisions of the Information Technology Act including S.66C (identity theft)of the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), partly by S.354C IPC(addressing voyeurism and prescribing punishment for the same) and partly by S.67A of the Information technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008) which addresses creation, circulation of sexually explicit contents etc. These provisions should be taken only when the victim complaints of cyber stalking, receiving messages from the perpetrator within the meaning of repeated persuading and creation of threat whereby the perpetrator may indicate that he is going to make private information of the victim public if she does not abide by his ‘demands’ of communicating and keeping contacts with him. This ‘aftermath’ may also include creation of revenge porn contents which is not recognized by Indian laws.
However, we should not overlook the exception clauses of S.354D IPC. When such repeated persuading is done in the course of positive purposes which includes monitoring for the security purposes, for the benefit of the victim etc and when the act is ‘justified’ by an order for doing so from competent authorities, it may not attract criminal liability. This actually means if the monitoring includes surveillance by proper authorities and for proper reasons, it would be not be considered as cyber stalking within the meaning of S.354D.