Cyber Space: Tread Cautiously

Published: 11th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th February 2015 10:59 PM   |  A+A-


The year was 2012 and the incident took place in Mumbai. Two  college girls after the death of a prominent leader posted a comment on Facebook that became the subject of controversy. The followers of the leader were infuriated by the comments and the Mumbai police had to register a criminal case against the girls. This in turn created a hue and cry that this section should not have been invoked for the innocuous expression of views on Facebook that were wrongly construed as expressions having criminal content.

 The Internet is all-pervading and social media has taken a grip on society. Electronic gadgets like the computer, laptop, audio and video systems have always fascinated the youth and there is hardly any youngster without a mobile phone. With the convenience such gadgets afford, there is also the flip side, the danger of misuse, which can land an individual in trouble. Financial fraud, defamation, offensive content, pornography, identity theft, online fraud have proliferated in cyber space necessitating the enactment of a special Act to deal with such offences.

 The Information Technology Act came into effect in 2000 and all police stations were empowered to deal with complaints. A simple definition of cyber crime would be ‘any unlawful act wherein the computer is either a tool or a target or both.’

Since youngsters use the gadgets most they should be aware of the pitfalls in the use of this sensitive electronic medium. 

R Natraj.jpgCyber crime has assumed great importance not just locally but internationally. Information is power and it is here this is used and misused.

In 2011 we had the incident of Blackberry induced messages in London over the death of a youngster allegedly in a confrontation with the police. Riots broke out all over London and spread to various adjoining towns.

In 2012 there was a disturbance in several parts of the Middle East, popularly referred as ‘Arab Spring’ when people revolted against the state over various issues of governance. In 2013 Delhi witnessed a disturbance to public order when the anti-corruption agitation demanding implementation of Lokpal led by Anna Hazare led to a riotous situation. Again it was messages through mobile phones and the Internet that gathered people. All this is a form of cyber crime as spreading disinformation, inciting people and engineering anarchy against a lawful government are all illegal activities.

 Sensitive data is stored on computers by several government and non-government organisations and hacking of such websites poses a huge security problem. Internet security and building fire walls to protect the privacy and integrity of material stored is yet another challenge.

2013 was the year of the mega breach when there was 62 per cent increase in data breaches compared to 2012 according to a government survey. There was also 91 per cent  increase in targeted attacks. A new breed of activists in the cyber world, appropriately called ‘hacktivists’, emerged.

‘Spear fishing’ is another form of accessing individual data using emotional appeal to catch people off guard. We get many messages requesting an appeal be forwarded to many people, but it is a clever form of identity theft.

 Cyber space offers a convenient cover for terrorist organisations and their trans-national terrorist activities, as they cleverly use it to spread disinformation and coordinate terrorist activities. A glaring instance was the  26/11 Mumbai attack in 2008 when 166 people were killed. Identity theft to access net banking, economic offences and pornography are other major areas of cyber crime. US security organisations have identified over 5,000 terror sites and to meet this a specialised team of dedicated cyber warriors has been formed.

 India has 140 million, or 14 crore, Internet users and the annual growth is nearly 30 per cent. The overall software export of India in 2011-12 was in the range of $68.7 billion. Reported crime compared to the increasing volume of operations is small mainly due to lack of awareness. According to the national crime record data reported cyber related crimes averages 2,000 cases annually.

 Realising the inadequacy of laws and competency of enforcement agencies the government introduced an amendment to the Information Technology Act, which came into effect in 2009. Section 66(A) of the IT Act, a widely used provision, states that ‘sending any information through an electronic message that is grossly offensive or has menacing character and might cause insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, etc. or sending such mail intended to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages’. There have been instances of youngsters sending prank messages or offensive messages that would definitely attract the above provision.

 Pornography and child abuse websites are another growing crime in cyber space. Even visiting a child pornography site is an offence and Internet users have to be wary of the danger in encouraging such sites as a software enabled watch is maintained by enforcement agencies. A centre for COMPUTER EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM — CERT IN has been formed by Government of India to regulate Internet usage and to intervene in emergency without compromising the freedom of speech provided under Article 19 of the Constitution.

Enjoyment of freedom has limitations and has to be exercised with due caution and responsibility. Cyber crime awareness and eternal vigilance alone can ensure safety and security.

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