During the COVID-19 19 lock down period between march 2020 to almost the end of October 2020, we have seen steep rise of cybercrimes especially cybercrimes against women. These crimes included different patterns: economic crimes, data privacy infringement, child sexual abuse online and creation of widespread hatred. Social media platforms like twitter, Instagram etc., had been flooded with hate messages, fake news, obscene messages etc. but it would be wrong to think that only web-based platforms had been used to creates online harassments or cyber crimes at large. Handheld phones are not spared either. Communication conveyed over phone had been threatening, unwanted and had also taken the nature of bullying. Both the receivers and perpetrators are nothing but Netizens. The concept of Netizens is fiction based just like the concept of cyber space, which finds it roots in the fiction called Neo romancer.
Individuals who live, survive in internet, on the internet and gain infotainment and use internet for connectivity are known as Netizens. The simple connotation of this term could be citizens of net.
But this term has not found any acceptance in any legal statute, international documents speaking about right to access internet, right to be forgotten or even cyber safety, e commerce. This is a popular nickname for all those who use internet, who have been born in the era when internet was booming and those who are connected to each other through information-digital communication technology. Often, we do get to hear that people belonging to the older generation who adopted internet and digital communication technology (because otherwise they could not have survived due to global digital revolution), are called as net immigrants because they may have get accustomed with the digi-culture. But would not prefer to use this term. Worldwide e-governance growth has involved every citizen to become netizen. Digitization by the governments of birth, marriage and death registrations, social security related data, bank data, school data, workplace data, health data, court data and above all internet and digital communication technology consumption data for the purpose of e-governance has therefore made everyone irrespective of age, gender, class, creed etc, netizens.
Netizens play a great role in shaping the livability of themselves as well as other netizens including women and children netizens on cyber space. Laurence Lessig, a pioneering professor on cyberspace regulation predicted that internet will be a virtual livable space with ‘market’ and it would become necessary for State to carefully frame laws to regulate cyber space. His findings stand firm forever. Netizens are important stakeholders for profit generation for internet companies. They also earn by living on the cyber space. By saying this, I however can not ignore the fact that netizens may use internet and cyber space as a whole for ethical as well as unethical profit gain. Consider the positive profit gaining strategies: legal e-commerce activities, earning from content development, etc. The illegal profit gaining part is heavier. Millions of netizens sell and consume data that may have been generated, stored, processed, trafficked in illegal ways. Data of women and girls are the hot priority in this regard. Almost all stakeholders would unanimously agree that cybercrimes against women and girls are rising because of the unmonitored behavior of several netizens.
As such, if we quickly look into the existing constitutional and legal frameworks of different countries, we can see that almost all countries have knowingly or unknowingly developed certain rights and duties for netizens. These rights and duties are universal in nature and may include freedom of speech and expression, right to privacy, right to access justice, right to information, right to live a dignified life and right to be forgotten. Simultaneously the duties may include duty to respect others rights on the cyber space as well as in real life, duty not to incite hatred, not to infringe privacy, copy right of other netizens including organizations and government data etc. the prime duty of every netizen however is to help the victim of online abuse by reporting right violation because if they remain mute spectators, they would become bystanders and add to visual victimization of the victim/s.
We can also see that existing laws have extended penal provisions to charge the netizens for their wrong doings on the cyber space which may affect lives of others in real life. But major problem lies in the jurisdictional issues. Netizens are ubiquitous especially. Netizen from one geographic region may reach out to other netizens situated another geo location. Initiating criminal proceedings against netizens in such cross border criminal cases becomes a huge problem for the criminal justice machinery especially in the absence of treaties to extradite offenders. The international laws and rules also play a major role in charging netizens for offences which may not be considered as indictable offence in the country where the netizen is residing and operating from.
It is expected that the international organizations and States must come together for working towards creation of universal rules for regulating the activities of netizens. This may help all to live and be remembered in a wonderful cyber space.
Please do not violate the copyright of this writeup. Please cite it as Halder Debarati (2020) ‘Netizens’. Published @https://wordpress.com/posts/internetlegalstudies.com on November 3rd, 2020
Opinions are that of the author and Gender and Internet : Web magazine for cyber law for women does not hold responsibility for the opinions of the author
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