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The internet has created a channel that has made communication and sharing of data easier. Social media platforms allow people to connect with each other and access each other’s information with a single click. However, on the flip side, technology has certain loopholes which allow criminals to misuse this liberty of access, leading to a rise in cyber crimes.
One such cybercrime is cyberstalking, also known as online stalking or internet stalking. Simply put, cyberstalking is the use of technology, the internet in particular to harass a person. This harassment includes monitoring someone’s online activities, threats, identity theft, data theft, forging their data, etc. Cyberstalking is often termed as an obsessive behaviour in which a person compulsively and illegally keeps a track of someone’s each and every activity over the internet.
Cyberstalkers use multiple methods to stalk a person over the internet like SMS, phone calls, emails, etc., the most common being social media platforms. Social media websites and mobile apps have access to a user’s personal information like pictures, address, contacts and whereabouts. Stalkers are able to misuse this information to threaten, blackmail or physically contact the victim.
Laws are constantly amended to keep up with the change in modes of committing crimes. After the Delhi Gang Rape case in 2012, the Indian Penal Code was amended by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 that added Section 354D to the IPC. Section 353-357 of the Indian Penal Code provides stalking laws in India and lay down the punishment for committing the crime of stalking. However, there are no provisions in the criminal laws in India that specifically criminalises cyberstalking in India.
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 states that a person would be punished with imprisonment for up to 3 years with fine if he uses a computer resource or communication device to send-
Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character. Any information which is false to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will. Any email or electronic mail message to cause annoyance or inconvenience, mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.
The Information Technology Act, 2000 also comes into picture when the cyberstalker posts or sends any obscene content to the victim. Section 67 of the Information Technology Act states that when any obscene material is published, transmitted or caused to be published in any electronic form, then it is a crime of obscenity, punishable with imprisonment for up to 5 years with fine of up to Rs. 1 lakh. A second or subsequent conviction is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years with a fine of up to Rs. 2 lakh.
Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with defamation, can be applied in case of cyberstalking in India if the stalker forges the victim’s personal information to post an obscene message or comment on any electronic media. Section 500 criminalises publishing any false statement against a person or harming the person's reputation and provides punishment for any such act with imprisonment up to 2 years, fine or both.
The first ever complaint against cyberstalking in India was filed by Ritu Kohli in 2003, whose name and contact information was posted by her husband’s friend on a chatting site, without her permission. She filed a complaint with the cyber cell in India under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code for outraging her modesty.
The crime of cyberstalking in India is prominently increasing, with new cases of internet stalking every day. With ease in accessing personal information of a person online, cybercriminals are easily able to stalk and harass a person.