In an all-pervasive digital world, everybody has a digital identity for official, social, business and even nefarious transactions one indulges in. The primary target is official databases from where identity theft is done as in the case of US Federal Database of 23 million employees or of 31 lakh debit card holders of State Bank of India. The other is digital/virtual identity as created in various profiles—Google, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and the like. It can also be completely virtual as in the case of many Twitter accounts, where you cannot attribute it to a particular person at first glance.
The most dangerous variant of misuse of personal information is when it is used to malign other persons. We find lots of such instances in case of love stories gone sour, where obscene/porn photos and videos are used for this purpose. More often than not, there is a long preceding duration of black mailing/extortion and physical and mental harassment. Cyber bullying is quite predominant and lots of youngsters have faced it in some form or the other.
Photoshop trickery/morphed images are used to create nuisance, cause loss of face or embarrassment or even create life-threatening situations. Digital impersonation is happening in wide and varied ways today. Fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter etc., have innumerable criminal dimensions, which needs to be understood and brought under day-to-day law enforcement radar. It’s the microcosm of the criminal world.
Individuals are thus being put to lots of risk as digital medium is instantaneous, pervasive and can cause permanent damage to the victim. In such cases, relief for victims is at the mercy of technology companies as they own the medium.
Mostly the deletion is made after the damage is done. There is also a technical challenge in tracking such data theft and having secure digital systems to flush out people who misuse private data. Security Data Science, Machine Learning & AI might throw up intelligent solutions in the days to come.
Sections of IPC or IT Act pertaining to impersonation, obscenity and hacking can be used against the criminal elements. However, the bigger challenge is attribution i.e., connecting crime to the criminal.
In conventional offences using the digital medium, lots of proxies, masking, routing techniques are used. With physical investigation by police in conjunction with cyber probes, crimes of this nature can still be detected and is also being done effectively. Immediate compliance with police requests by social media companies and others should be effectively mandatedw by law. Jurisdiction is most important challenge. National laws and international digital operations are the biggest operational dichotomy of our time.
(The writer is a 1989 batch IPS officer and had formerly headed the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems. A cyber crime expert, he is presently the ADGP of Lokayukta)