Category: Cyber crimes against women

Concept of “Cyber space”

By Dr.Debarati Halder, LL.B., M.L., Ph.D(Law) (NLSIU)

Image curtsy: Google

The modern human society is overly dependent on the internet now. Artificial intelligence and Internet of things (IOT)   have made it possible for machines to work and speak for humans. In other words, human minds are now ‘colonized’ by machines which compel most  human beings to think, act and text what  they (the machines) want the later to do. While this statement may be considered as ‘dramatic’. The fact is, the machines are controlled by human intelligence. This human intelligence (which  controls the machines) is developed by few skilled people who may have developed the software, the hardware and may have done the entire designing of machines for the benefit of human society.  This human intelligence is the main factor which empowers the machines to control the thought process, activities and execution of the thought process of many other human beings.

 Let us understand this process through the following diagram :

A fine example of this could be using automatic washing machines.  Almost every households have washing machines and many of them are automatic. This auto mechanism is the first box : humans  make software and user-friendly hardware  understanding the needs of fellow human beings. Next , the machines get adjusted to human needs. No, it’s not about befriending humans; it’s about how the machine decides how much clothes should be washed /dried on a daily /weekly basis, what should be the water temperature and how best that temperature may suite the clothes. Next, humans get dependent on the machine, its artificial intelligence and its ability. The manual work time that should have been  done by the humans, is now taken over by the machine. The humans now can use this time for more positive (and in several cases negative too) productive works. The psychology of human beings then becomes completely connected with the machines and dependent on the machines.  At one point of time, when the machine stops working or does not perform according to the expected performance level of humans, the later becomes angry, irritated, annoyed.  What we see here is  the connection between human psychology and artificial intelligence.  This is a unique connection between physical space and mental space, which is bridged by something called cyber space.  Let us understand the typology of space here:

Physical space is that space for which laws may be made for governing behaviors, contracts, marriages, succession, criminal and civil liabilities etc.  Traditionally laws are made for controlling those incidences which can be felt physically, financially and to a certain extent psychologically. Consider Penal laws meant for governing criminal activities like causing grievous physical harm. Law is made to address pre execution plan, execution of the plan and post execution impact on the body, mind and society as a whole. It is for this reason that we get to see the application of law meant for abetment, motive, means rea, commission of offence, compensation, punishment of the offender  and also rehabilitation of the offender as well as the victim. 

Mental space on the other hand, is  a logical and formal abstract space where ideas may generate. Laws may be created for governing outer behavior of individuals. But mental space may not be governed by any law. It has to be disciplined to think create action plans as per the positive societal norms. A good example of law versus mental space can be, a plan to commit a theft is made in the mind. Until and unless this is executed and committed in the physical space, it can not be prosecuted or laws can not be used to regulate that particular act. This means that planning or thinking something in mind  and doing the same on physical space are two different things. Unless both are connected by plan and consequent action and execution of the plan, laws may not be applied.

Cyber space on the other hand, is a  virtual space where machines are made to work at the command given by humans. Laws are necessary to govern this space because it executes several plans or motives, makes contracts and creates criminalities and civil liabilities too. however, there is a common overlapping of the concepts of cyber space and internet.

On 1st April,2019, Gmail celebrated its 15th birthday. This free email service by Google rapidly became popular across the globe and threw a tough competition to other email services including Hotmail, Yahoo mail, AOL mail etc. These are also known as web mail services. They are termed as Web mail services because unlike postal mail services, these web mail services connect people through cyber space, which, to many is popularly known as Worldwideweb.

But technically speaking, the concept of cyber space evolved much more earlier than the concept of Worldwideweb. The abstract concept of “Cyber space” was created first by a novelist and science fiction writer William Gibson in his novel  “Neuromancer”. He described the cyber space as ““A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”[1]

The term cyberspace is actually derived from the term cybernetics (which comes from the Greek term kybernētikḗ [2]) which was  coined by Norbert Weiner in 1948. Weiner explained it as “scientific study of control and communication of animal and machine”. [3]

As one can see, the description of cyber space by Gibson not only threw light on the complexities of computer technologies, but also emphasized on involvement of human mind in operating on this space. In 1989 Tim Bernes Lee invented WorldWideWeb, which is an information space. This made the documents and other web resources easily available on the web space.

Image created by Dr.Debarati Halder

 But this does not mean that  WorldWideWeb or cyber space is only machine oriented. As Gibson emphasized, cyber space (and later WorldWideWeb) is necessarily controlled by human beings. Cyber Space has been used positively as well as negatively  to create documents, interconnect military departments with universities for security research purposes, for networking, creating and providing huge data base for several types of information. At the same time, cyber space is also used for several criminalities, for plotting terror, for carrying out terror activities and for executing criminal activities targeting governments, corporate houses and individuals .  with the emergence of  internet, new information and digital communication technologies cyber space has now become the most chosen space for  carrying out criminalities against individuals including women and children.

Lawrence Lessig, a fine academician and a Harvard professor addressed cyber space from the perspective of governing cyber space. According to him, the concept of cyber space can be explained on the basis of the followings[1]:

  • Cyber space is a livable place.
  • It has Possibility of actions
  • It has its own Time organization mechanism
  • It has Spatial organization
  • It has distinctive  four pillars of cyber space (law, norms, market, constraint)
  • Cyber space is regulable.

Jaishankar Karuppannan, the Father of Cyber Criminology also added one more basic feature of cyber space, which is connected with human psychology; he said people behave differently when they move from one space to another and this ‘space’ is none other than the cyber space.[2]

The UK Cyber Security Strategy Protecting and promoting the UK in a digital world however defined the concept of cyber space from cyber security aspect.[3] According them,

  • Cyberspace is an interactive domain made up of digital networks that is used to store, modify and communicate information.
  • It includes the internet, but also the other information systems that support our businesses, infrastructure and services. Digital networks already underpin the supply of electricity and water to our homes, help organise the delivery of food and other goods to shops, and act as an essential tool for businesses across the UK.
  • And their reach is increasing as we connect our TVs, games consoles, and even domestic appliances

According to National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations, a classified document, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US, 2006, “Cyber space is a domain characterized by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to store, modifies and exchange data via networked systems and associated physical infrastructures.”[4]

According to National Cyber Security Policy, India , 2013, Cyberspace is a complex environment consisting of interactions between people, software and services, supported by worldwide distribution of information and communication technology (ICT) devices and networks.[5]

The latest definition of cyber space could be found in the definition developed by Marco Mayer, Luigi Martino, Pablo Mazurier and Gergana Tzvetkova in their 2014 paper on how to define cyber space .[6] Their definition runs as follows:

“Cyberspace is a global and dynamic domain (subject to constant change) characterized by the combined use of electrons and the electromagnetic spectrum, whose purpose is to create, store, modify, exchange, share, and extract, use, eliminate information and disrupt physical resources. Cyberspace includes:

 a) Physical infrastructures and telecommunications devices that allow for the connection of technological and communication system networks, understood in the broadest sense (SCADA devices, smartphones/tablets, computers, servers, etc.);

 b) Computer systems (see point a) and the related (sometimes embedded) software that guarantee the domain’s basic operational functioning and connectivity;

 c) Networks between computer systems;

d) Networks of networks that connect computer systems (the distinction between networks and networks of networks is mainly organizational);

 e) The access nodes of users and intermediaries routing nodes;

 f) Constituent data (or resident data). Often, in common parlance (and sometimes in commercial language), networks of networks are called the Internet (with a lowercase i), while networks between computers are called intranet. Internet (with a capital I, in journalistic language sometimes called the Net) can be considered a part of the system a).

 A distinctive and constitutive feature of cyberspace is that no central entity exercises control over all the networks that make up this new domain.”

All these definitions however skirt around the concept of cyber space as developed by Lessig.

Hence, cyber space may be explained as below:



Cyber space therefore is a holistic concept of abstract space which is inclusive of computer devices that are enabled to communicate with other computers, computer networks, storage spaces that may be enabled to import and export data , communication platforms, memory and memory chips etc. Cyber space necessarily includes infrastructure, information super highway, webpages etc  which facilitates information and data  exchange as well.


[1] Lessig Lawrence. The Laws of cyber space. https://cyber.harvard.edu/works/lessig/laws_cyberspace.pdf. 1998

[2] Jaishankar Karuppannan. Space transition theory. “Crimes of the Internet” edited by Frank Schmalleger & Michael Pittaro, published by Prentice Hall (2008: 283-301).

[3] See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/60961/uk-cyber-security-strategy-final.pdf

[4] https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=35693

[5] Retrieved from http://datia.nic.in/doc/cyber.pdf

[6] Definition by Marco Mayer, Luigi Martino, Pablo Mazurier and Gergana Tzvetkova, Draft Pisa, 19 May 2014 https://www.academia.edu/7096442/How_would_you_define_Cyberspace


Duping women in the name of matured friendship: The Pollachi sextortion case

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

Couple of days back I received a friends request on FaceBook from a male profile whom I do not know either personally or through any of my networks. But the profile was apparently very impressing : the man was an alumni of Oxford University , works in Mercedes Benz company and he is better looking than the average. From  my experience as a cybercrime victim counsellor , lawyer and a cyber right activist for more than a decade now  I could understand that this may be one of many fake profiles that are created to allure women (and not necessarily  young girls) to trap them and victimize them through online and offline crimes including sexual crimes. It is an obvious phenomena now that women, especially educated women are using social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc for expanding their network  for various purposes including Job searching, getting connected with like-minded people, expanding their research network , volunteering for social causes etc.  
In the recently held #Webwonderwomen award ceremony in Delhi, the Ministry of Women and Child affairs awarded 30 women including myself the #Webwonderwomen award for positively using social media (especially Twitter), spreading awareness about the social causes they are working on and their real life support for women empowerment all across India. It was a joint initiative of Ministry of Women and Child affairs, Twitter and Breakthrough India. My fellow awardees work in different fields of public health, women’s health, right to breast feeding, women empowerment, journalism especially for the causes of women, proper nutrition for women, education for women and girls especially in socio-economically backward sectors of the society, empowering women of all age group from socio-economically backward sectors  about their rights against domestic violence, sexual reproduction rights etc.  All of them could actually make their journey stronger because of positive use of social media. I too have been using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc  to get connected with  people who have become my knowledge partners, mentors and friends in the field of law and policy especially for Cyber Victimology, Cyber law for women, Cyber Criminology, Revenge Porn, Non consensual porn,  Women’s Rights, Child Rights, Criminal law, Penology, Therapeutic Jurisprudence  etc.  It would not have been possible for me reach to the world about my work including my pro bono work without social media and the friends that I have made. I consider myself privileged to have 24 hours  access to internet  and a platform where I can share my opinion bravely, gather information without any fear and build a reputation.  Some of my fellow awardees  could win this award staying in remote places because they are well connected with the world through internet and social media.  Internet as such has given a platform to earn money in a positive way too. Consider thousands of women who make daily/weekly/monthly  Vlogs and upload it on Youtube . They have their recognition as “Youtuber” and YouTube duly recognizes their “popularity” (marketability) by awarding and rewarding them.
But still then, internet is not safe for women.  The Pollachi case proved it again.  Pollachi is the second largest town in Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu.  This place is famous for its world famous jaggery  market and beautiful lush green agricultural fields. One would actually not imagine that this can be a center for news on cyber crimes against women, but it has now surfaced because of a brave young woman who had lodged a complaint against  the  smart gang of men who had been “enjoying” sex by way of connecting with women through fake profiles (mostly of women), grooming them to enter into chats and sharing more details, turning the chats into typical sex chats and then alluring them to come and meet in person. In my book Cyber crimes against women in India (coauthored with  prof(Dr) Jaishankar, Halder D., & Jaishankar K. (November 2016). Cyber Crime against Women in India. New Delhi: SAGE. ISBN: 978-93-859857-7-5.) I had discussed about such kinds of grooming and consequent victimization of women and this can be shown through the flow chart as below:
Image created by Dr.Debarati Halder 
 This brave woman was sexually harassed , molested and assaulted when she went to meet the so called ‘friends’, who had been doing this to many women, recording their sexual assault in their phones and threatening them to leak the clippings if they dare to refuse their demands or to go to the police. The police has now arrested all the four members of the gang applying provisions including Ss. 354A, B of the Indian Penal Code , S.66E of the Information technology Act and S.4 of the  Tamil Nadu Prohibition of harassment of women’s Act. [1]. Let us see what do these provisions say and whether  these Sections may play a pivotal role in delivering justice to women victims such as this brave heart:
S. 354A of the IPC says
(1) “A man committing any of the following acts—
(i)  physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures;
(ii) or a demand or request for sexual favours;
(iii)or showing pornography against the will of a woman;
(iv) or making sexually coloured remarks, shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment.
(2) Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (i) or clause (ii) or clause (iii) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Any man who commits the offence specified in clause (iv) of sub-section (1) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
S.354 B of the Indian Penal Code states that
“Any man who assaults or uses criminal force to any woman or abets such act with the intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”.
S.66E of the Information technology Act 2000 (amended in 2008) states as follows:
 Punishment for violation of privacy. -Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both. Explanation. -For the purposes of this section-
(a) “transmit” means to electronically send a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons;
(b) “capture”, with respect to an image, means to videotape, photograph, film or record by any means;
(c) “private area” means the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast;
(d) “publishes” means reproduction in the printed or electronic form and making it available for public; e) “under circumstances violating privacy” means circumstances in which a person can have a reasonable expectation that;-
(i) he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that an image of his private area was being captured; or
(ii) any part of his or her private area would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.
Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment Act states as follows:
Penalty for harassment of woman: Whoever commits or participates in or abets harassment of woman in or within the precincts of any educational institution, temple or other place of worship, bus stop, road, railway station, cinema theatre, park, beach, place of festival, public service vehicle or vessel or any other place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees.”
Noticeably, this provision may have been used for punishing the accused for committing the crime in the “specific place”; for secluding the victim from her  ‘comfort zone’ where she could have raised an alarm for help and committing the crime in a place which may be a public place or a moving vehicle from where the victim may not escape easily. 
The other news report suggested that the District Collector had ordered for detention of the accused under Goondas Act (officially known as Tamil Nadu Prevention of  Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug offenders, Goondas, Immoral traffic offenders, Sand offenders, Slum grabbers, and Video pirates Act, 1985) .[2]In my earlier blog I had explained how Goondas Act can be relevant in cyber offences by stating that this law can be very relevant especially where crimes including committing or attempting to commit extortion of money , threatening for the same, cheating, etc are involved.[3]
However, I have not seen any news report indicating that S.67A of the Information Technology Act (amended in 2008) was used for booking of the offences or not. This Section speaks about   Punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form and says “Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form any material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees”. It does not necessarily speak about creating such content by clicking the images and this has to be inferred from the provision itself. However, this lacuna has been partly covered by S.66E of the Information technology Act which speaks about violating the privacy of any individual.

Clearly, this is not a case of revenge porn, but a case of non consensual porn especially when the accused persons would have stored the clipping of sexual assault of the woman concerned with an intention of visual sexual gratification through the clipping/s and also to use it for future threatening or creating/producing sexually explicit contents on internet . But unfortunately the laws are still handicapped in this regard when it comes to grooming and sextortion. There is no law which may holistically cover the whole issue of grooming women for sexual gratification , which is narrowly addressed in the POCSO Act. Here lies the major lacuna which may have motivated many for victim blaming. 
Women like Pollachi brave heart would not have created “virtual friendship” with another unknown man or woman unless the perpetrator would have customized the fake profile to gain trust. This could have been done by thorough data mining about the victim/s.  apparently the victims of this gang were adult women including doctors, teachers etc. Such perpetrators look for their prey from social media profiles who may have not taken full precautions to protect their albums, posts, friend lists and above all the email ids and/or the  phone numbers  which  are used for accessing social media through phones. This ignorance may invite major risks as this particular case. However, social media site is also to be blamed for not monitoring the creation of fake profiles which they would not necessarily scan unless someone reports the profile as fake.
This case should have a happy ending and this can be possible only when this particular  victim and other victims of this gang cooperate with the prosecution till the end and the police uses its legal power to extract all evidences from the social media website. We as civil society members are also responsible to make a happy ending of this case : please do not circulate the images of the victim/s if in case you are conveyed the images from any number, profile etc. Such circulation would also attract penal provisions against the person who may not be directly involved in the case, but may circulate it thinking that it is “fun” to circulate such images, or he/she is doing the same to make the society aware that such crimes have happened. We all should respect the privacy of the victims and at the same time praise the victims for breaking social taboo  and reporting the matter to the police.
Stop cybercrimes against women. Start positive usage of social media .
Please note : Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use information provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2019),Duping women in the name of matured friendship: The Pollachi sextortion case  ” 12th March, 2019 , published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com