Law regarding cyber-bullying in India

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Internet has now become a part of our lives and it brings ease in our day to day jobs and also helps us to connect with people around the globe. Accessing data using internet has become so easy, with the click of a button the huge strata of information about the society is made available to us. With the advancement of technology, the unforeseen events of cyber offences also came into existence. One such being Cyber bullying, which is an intentional aggressive act by an individual or a group of people done repeatedly over the electronic form of contact. It is not defined in any law, nor there is any specific statutory law that deals with the same. Cyber bullying is a form of harassment where a person hides behind a screen and mentally tortures the other person. It can occur over any social networking site, over SMS, Email, Instant Message Service or any other platform over the electronic world.  This type of bullying can be done in various ways, some of them being:

  • Hacking personal accounts again and again;
  • Flaming, which is the use vulgar or insensitive language to attack someone
  • Sending hurtful or inappropriate messages to harass someone;
  • Sharing someone’s private messages or picture or threatening/blackmailing to do so;
  •  Impersonating someone and damaging their reputation;
  • Threatening someone to commit an act of violence or threats of pornography;
  • Stalking someone and sending targeted messages; etc.

The use of technology beyond the unauthorised acts and permissible limits leads to the creation of such acts. There are many cyber offences which still cannot be predicted due to the advancement of technology and artificial intelligence over time.

Negative effects

With the increase in technology and internet connectivity anyone can hide behind a screen and harass the other person. Exposure to such bullying can have varying effects on person, be it a child or an adult. Internet harassment can psychologically agitate their victims, creating a hostile environment for the same. Some negative effects which a person has to deal with while dealing with cyber-bullying are that it diminishes the self-esteem of the victim, there is a tendency of withdrawal shown, the victim feels exposed and harmed, it creates a feeling of humiliation and can cause depression, It can also lead to the use of drugs or alcoholism and there can be a change in personality as well as disinterest in thing/activities liked earlier, it can also cause some serious and permanent changes in the life of the victims and his loved ones like self-harm or even suicide. Another issue among these negative emotions is that the victim is more likely to become anti-social instead of standing up against his/her bully.    

Legal provisions

There is no specific statute that deals with Cyber-bullying as a crime, but some sections of The Information Technology Act, 2000; The Indian Penal Code, 1860 and The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 deals with the similar issues and can come under the wide scope of cyber-bullying.

  • Under the IT Act, Section 66 talks about computer related offences under which the person is held liable for a maximum term of three years or for fine up to Rs five lakh or both. Under this provision, section 66 C talks about punishment of Identity
  • Theft or as it is also known as impersonation, section 66 D deals with the punishment of cheating by personation by using the computer or online resources,  66 E deals with the punishment of violation of a person’s privacy, section 67 talks about Publishing or transmitting obscene material through electronic form along with section 67 A which talks about the same but also consists of sexually explicit act and lastly, section 67 B talks about the publishing of such materials depicting children in electronic form which can be excused if it is for public good and learning or is kept or used for bona fide heritage or religious purposes.
  • The Supreme Court in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, struck down section 66 A of the IT Act, 2000 which dealt with the punishment for sending offensive messages through a computer resource or communication device and held that it does not come under the ambit of reasonable restrictions of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. The said section was vague and ambiguous and sections 66 B and 67 C of the IT act along with various provisions of IPC were good enough to deal with such crimes. 
  • Further, provisions of IPC that deals with cyber-crimes are- Section 292 A, which talks about printing of indecent matter or matter for blackmail, the matter should be injurious to the morality or should be calculated to injure a person and the offender will be imprisoned for a maximum period of two years and will also be liable to fine. Section 354 A talks about sexual harassment of unwelcome physical contact or of the nature of making sexually coloured re
  • ark or demand/request for sexual favours of pornography.
  • Section 354 D talks about stalking or attempting to or actually contacting a woman and the offender will be liable for three years for first attempt and five years max for any subsequent attempt. Section 499 talks about defamation i.e. when a person by spoken words or signs makes or publishes something with an intent to harm the reputation of the other person, the same can be done over electronic means as well. Further, section 507 talks about criminal intimidation through any anonymous communication/means and the offender will be liable for a period of two years max.
  • Section 509 of IPC deals with the offenders who intend to insult the modesty of a women by words or gesture by intruding the privacy of the women and such offenders will be punished for a term of one year or fine or both.

In the case of Sharat Babu Digumarti v. Government of NCT of Delhi, there was a conflict between provisions of the IPC and the IT Act. In this case, an obscene video had been listed for sale on a site and the same was intentionally hidden under the category of e-books, some of the copies were sold before the listing was deactivated. The SC in this case ruled that if an offence involves an electronic record, the IT Act alone would apply since such was the legislative intent. And if there is any conflict between the IT Act and the IPC then, the special law would prevail over the general law and the latter law would prevail over the prior legislation. Further, section 81 of the IT Act states that the provisions of the IT Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force.

The provisions under POCSO act also protects the children below 18 years of age from any sexual harassment, pornography or sexual assault which would include any form of cyber-bullying punishable under the act.

In this sense, the Ministry of Human Resources have directed schools and colleges to form Anti-Ragging associations. UGC in this regard has also issued the ‘UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Educational Institutions 2009’, so that there could be a check and balance on cyber-bullying in schools and universities. NCERT has also set out various guidelines defining the roles of teachers, parents as well as students in these circumstances and are required to report these bullies immediately. 

Critical analysis

Due to the advancing technologies, there is a dire need to have a proper legislation for cyber laws in India. The cyber space evolves on a daily basis unlike the physical space and therefore the crimes over the electronic medium cannot be foreseen completely.

Cyber-crimes can take an ugly shape in the future thus it needs to be addressed soon. In the making of such legislation, the opinion of psychiatrists should also be taken into consideration since such offences affects the psyche of the person more than it affects their bodies. Also, both the offender and the victim might need counselling after such incidents as the purpose is to educate the society and to make them realize their mistakes and in several cases the abusers also have a history of being bullied themselves. Therefore, the existing laws should also be revised for benefitting children and portals should be set up where these crimes could be reported. 

Also, other than being completely dependent on technology for the prevention of cyber-crimes the administration of schools, colleges, and offices should take up certain measures to prevent the same. There should be anti-ragging cells everywhere and there could be advertisements regarding cyber bulling as well. Cyber ethics should be taught to the students so that they learn to respect other’s privacy as well. Trolls on internet are also getting popular these days and they can be humiliating as well as insulting. The anonymity on the internet gives the offender power and control of harassing someone without a fear of their actions. Troll Police campaigns should be encouraged and there should be restrictions on what one can post over the social media.

Conclusion

The concept of justice will be defeated if the victims of cyber-crimes are made to suffer anymore, with the advancement in technology it is important to set some ground rules for its use. These technologies do help us in becoming a developed country but at the cost of hundreds of innocents being traumatised by cyber space. Even the Freedom of Speech guaranteed by our constitution has certain reasonable restrictions to it, similarly there should be certain boundaries which a person should not be able to cross even on online platforms.

Expressing oneself on any matter should be a matter of individuality and it should be respected even if not agreed to. However, using this freedom to mentally harass or threaten someone should not be accepted and thus the need for a well drafted legislation is well awaited.  

Author: Kavya Arora from UPES, Dehradun.

Editor: Priyanshu Grover from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh.

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