Tag: onlineharassment

CYBER BULLYING, CYBER SECURITY AND THE CYBER LAWS OF UK – AN ANALYSIS OVER THE YEARS by Reshmitha.G.Sarma

Picture courtesy: Internet

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

INTRODUCTION:

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]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.[5] And as per the provisions of Sec.8 of the PHA[6], 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.[7]

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%.[8]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.[9]Cybersmile Foundation, a help centre to increase awarness, had performed a research to find out the kind of misuse happening in cyberspace of UK.[10] 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.[11]
  • 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.[12]
  • 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.[13]
  • The act of pressurising young children to take part in sending images or content that are sexual would also amount to cyberbullying.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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:

  • Bullying,
  • Insulting behaviour, or
  • Behaviour likely to intimate or humiliate an individual.[18]

The Conservative Government added this to the Digital Economy Bill during its final stages.[19]

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.”[20]

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.

CONCLUSION:

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 @ reshmitha96@gmail.com

[1] Cyberspace, TECHOPEDIA, Sep 2012

[2] Online Harms White Paper, Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Home Office, Business Regulation, Government of UK, (Apr 2019), https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/online-harms-white-paper

[3] See, Types of cyberbullying, NATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO CHILDREN (NSPCC), https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/bullying-and-cyberbullying/.

[4] See, Cyberbullying: What is it and how to stop it, UNICEF| for every child, https://www.unicef.org/end-violence/how-to-stop-cyberbullying

[5] Protection from Harassment Act, 1997, Act no.c.40, 1997, UK Public General Acts, Sec.1

[6] Protection from Harassment Act, 1997, Act no.c.40, 1997, UK Public General Acts, Sec.8

[7] ibid

[8] OECD (2020), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/19cf08df-en.

[9] Sean Coughlan, England’s schools ‘worst for cyber-bullying’, BBC NEWS, June 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/education-48692953 

[10] What is cyberbullying, THE CYBERSMILE FOUNDATION, https://www.cybersmile.org/advice-help/category/what-is-cyberbullying

[11] ibid

[12] See, Types of Abuse – bullying and cyberbullying, NATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO CHILDREN (NSPCC),  https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/bullying-and-cyberbullying/.

[13] See, Types of cyberbullying, NATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO CHILDREN (NSPCC), https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/bullying-and-cyberbullying/.

[14] ibid

[15] OECD (2019), How’s Life in the Digital Age?: Opportunities and Risks of the Digital Transformation for People’s Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264311800-en.

[16] ibid

[17] See, HC Deb, Culture Media and Sport Committee, Online Safety: Responses to Committee’s Sixth Report of Session 2013-14, Jul 2014, HC 517 2014-15, page 11, Feb 2015, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmcumeds/517/51702.htm.

[18] DIGITAL ECONOMY ACT, 2017, Act no. c.30, 2017, UK Public General Acts, Sec.103

[19]  HC Deb Apr 2017 c1124, HL Deb Apr 2017 cc1491-1493, https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-04-26/debates/52706430-B069-4DDA-B0F1-52916F6A4588/DigitalEconomyBill.

[20] House of Lords Communications Committee, Social Media and criminal offences, Jul 2014, HL 37 2014-15, para 15

Gender and Internet : Web magazine for Cyber law for women News update for September 25-30, 2019

Woman MP stresses on privacy and tracability of criminals on cyber space especially in regard to social media : Court in India emphasizes more on privacy rights
https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/mp-mahua-moitra-intervenes-in-whatsapp-traceability-case-in-madras-hc-148662

Accused persons still play dominance over the victim even after filing FIR regarding online harassment. Woman takes it to National Commission for Women. Complains about poor execution of laws
https://www.opindia.com/2019/09/girl-complains-about-online-sexual-harassment-by-a-group-of-men-ncw-steps-in-to-help/

Porn sites are back in India despite the ban on porn channels by Department of Telecommunications. Cyber law experts show concern over cyber security.
https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/india/despite-ban-porn-sites-back-by-tweaking-their-portal-names

Revenge Porn victims share unending victimization saga as laws fail to stop surfacing of revenge porn materials on the world wide web after years.
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/sep/22/theres-no-end-and-no-escape-you-feel-so-so-exposed-life-as-a-victim-of-revenge-porn?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other&fbclid=IwAR3H_g_broU68-WR-r6iBAII7g__FBaWIVcbgdmxafpeGgS1ffW8Dpj1Iok