Decoding Cyber Stalking law from Indian perspectives. by Dr.Debarati Halder

Picture courtesy : Internet

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,[1] 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.

Stay Safe, be safe.

Please do not violate the copyright of this blog. If you need to use it for your reference, please cite it as Halder Debarati (2020) Decoding cyber stalking law from Indian perspectives . Published in on 04-07-2020

[1] Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012, (2017) 10 SCC 1

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