Cyber Cops Blame Facebook Red Tape for Case Delays - The New Indian Express

Cyber Cops Blame Facebook Red Tape for Case Delays

Published: 25th January 2014 08:15 AM

Last Updated: 25th January 2014 12:08 PM

Facebook’s unpredictable privacy policy is hampering investigators trying to track down online offenders, Bangalore’s cyber police say.

The cyber police station in Bangalore receives many complaints, including those related to impersonation and cheating. Social media offences rank high on the list of cyber crimes.

Police say that they are finding it difficult to crack such cases because they have to follow long-winded legal procedures to get information from site administrators.

Shweta Pandit Case

Just last week, Shweta Pandit, an actress who took part in the Kannada edition of reality show Bigg Boss, faced harassment from a stalker on Facebook. He not only posted obscene messages but also threatened her with dire consequences if she approached the police.

“He was so arrogant. He said he knew rowdies and policemen in Upparpet police station. When I made this nuisance public, he disappeared,” Shweta Pandit told Express.

She advises people against posting personal details on social networking sites. “Many of my friends have approached the cyber police for help after they faced harassment online,” she said.

Sometime ago, another actress who had also taken part in Bigg Boss, knocked on the doors of the cyber police after someone created a fake Facebook account in her name. Weeks before her case came to light, a fashion photographer had complained to the police against an impostor who had opened an account in his name and was chatting with his models. “Facebook sometimes declines information if a post is older than a month. They also insist on a letter rogatory procedure in some cases,” D Roopa, DIG (economic offences), CID, told Express.

A letter rogatory (letter of request) is a document in which a court writes to a foreign court for judicial assistance.

Rogatory Procedure

The rogatory procedure brings the Central government into the picture, requiring the cyber police to write to the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi. Once the Ministry clears the request, the cyber police write to a Bangalore court seeking a letter rogatory.

The court corresponds with the jurisdictional court in the United States, where Facebook is headquartered, and the court’s letter is sent to Interpol through the CBI. This procedure takes far too long, Bangalore police say.

“Till early this year, our investigating officers used to write directly to the Facebook office in the United States,” said Roopa. 

“In some cases Facebook gave out information. In others, they said they didn’t store data for more than one month,” said D Roopa, DIG (economic offences), CID.

In more complicated cases, Facebook asked the police to follow the rogatory procedure.

In a recent case, members of a trust in Mysore had filed a complaint, saying someone was posting objectionable comments on a fake Facebook account. The trust realised it was a fake account only when false allegations were being made through the account.

Facebook sought a letter rogatory to give out the IP (internet protocol) address and other details. Facebook’s India office in Hyderabad does not provide details, and refers complaints to its US centre. In the Bigg Boss case, a new fake account came up after the first one was blocked. The actress has filed a complaint of stalking against the fake account user.

N Vijayshankar, cyber law expert, says local offices of social media sites should be held responsible for providing information.

“The government should make it mandatory for local offices to respond in any police investigation. When social networking websites can raise money through advertisements, they should also be answerable to law,” he said.

United States, India are Most Curious

Express contacted the Facebook office in Hyderabad for its response to the concerns of the Bangalore police, but was directed to its blog. According to its blog, India has placed 4,144 requests for user data, and comes second, after the United States (11,000-12,000), in seeking private information. The blog states, “We disclose account records solely in accordance with our terms of service and applicable law. A Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request or letter rogatory may be required to compel the disclosure of the contents of an account.”

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