Opinion | India On The Verge Of Digital Lawlessness

Laws exist because lawlessness has a tendency to run amok. Just as in our mundane physical world, the virtual world too is struggling to prevent the dark forces from establishing anarchy.

India along with other countries is dwelling on the periphery of digital lawlessness. This might sound preposterous, especially when technology riding piggybacks on the Internet is trying to bring about a revolution, which permeates to all layers of human existence. There is no doubt that India has made digitization a priority. The Government launched its flagship programme - “Digital India” initiative in 2015 with emphasis on the implementation of Digital Locker, e-education, and e-health along with other Internet-driven services and has taken great strides in this direction. Internet usage in India has shown steady growth, thanks to the mobile phone revolution and with Digital India vision being implemented, the Internet penetration in India looks rather promising. India has 105 crore wireless connections (TRAI; September 30, 2016) for a population of 133 crores (World Bank; October 6, 2016). This unbridled growth in connectivity and Internet has caused a lot of euphoria among the general public. Advancing technology and aggressive market strategy by Internet Service Providers promises to push up Internet reach way beyond imagination in future. Media reports a remarkable upswing in the investments made by foreign investors. While this is, of course, good news, on the hindsight Digital safety has received much less attention from the government. Just as Internet intelligence among children and adults continues to evolve rapidly and instances of cybercrime are growing at an equivalent and dangerous pace.

According, to CERT-in (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team – India’s nodal agency for responding to cybersecurity concerns) a total of 27,482 cases of Cybercrimes were reported in 2017. Further, according to news reports, a total of 1.71 lakh cybercrimes were reported in India in the past three-and-a-half years. According to reports, a cyber-attack is recorded every ten mins. India is on the verge of Digital Lawlessness.

What remains unseen behind this enormous reach of the Internet is the way it is changing the social, cultural and economic fabric of the country, for the good and as much for the worse.

Digital Threat to Digital Emergency

Digital threats are invisible and abstract, they do not manifest themselves in a visual or oral form in most cases and this makes them harder to combat. A computer program in the form of a virus can transfer and replicate undetected on your computer or phone. Without the owner’s explicit knowledge someone can access the physical surrounding of the target by turning on the camera or microphone. All throughout the threat remains abstract. Fieke Jansen, in an interesting article on the subject of digital threats, titled “From digital threat to digital emergency”, shares that “A digital threat can include cyber-attacks, vulnerabilities to communication infrastructure, unsafe data use, compromising of devices, stealing of equipment, legal proceedings or weak digital security practices”. It further talks about the repression of the freedom of the Internet and the targeting of journalists, bloggers, activists, and citizens. This is another kind of digital hooliganism, which undermines freedom of speech. Jansen speaks about digital emergencies for those whose basic human rights are violated through acts of censorship and targeted surveillance.

“Big brother is watching you”, an Orwellian observation, is an on-the-face reality today. A simple act like walking down the street can leave digital traces. Surveillance cameras keep a watch on our movements. Spy cameras are invading privacy and the mobile phone is a potent tracking device, which can pinpoint one’s actual location. While most of these digital gadgets have a noble purpose for their existence, there is no guarantee that these will not be misused. Using such devices and technology without any rule or restriction can spell danger for the very people whose safety was the basic purpose of its use. While the Digital technologies and the Internet have significant benefits from an educational, creative and entrepreneurial stand-point; the social media platforms are becoming a hub for cyberbullying, online sexual abuse, exploitation, cyber extremism, cyber addiction and other risks and threats (such as misuse of information, and physical and mental health hazards) which are fatal for children and adults.

Cyberbullying leaves many a psyche scarred and maimed, even leading to suicide and unnecessary bloodbath in extreme cases. Online sexual exploitation, grooming, cyber extremism, online commercial fraud are just some of the known dangers of the online world. Apart from the above, games like the Blue Whale (if at all it can be called a game) that has reportedly claimed the lives of a hundred of teenagers across the world is an offspring of the uninhibited, unrestrained and unsupervised use of social media. Taking isolated steps to block such games are knee-jerk reaction much like addressing the surface symptoms without bothering to carry out a prognosis for what lies beneath. What makes the web more dangerous is the inadequacy in the present legislation to place appropriate sanctions for cybercrime placing in jeopardy the security and privacy of not only the individuals but the country at large. The Digital lawlessness will continue to grow unrestrained if we don’t have adopt adequate measures to contain this somehow. The Inadequacy of the Present Laws and Subjective Interpretation India’s policy and legal framework for cybersecurity is perhaps evolving but we don’t have a solid base for building a comprehensive strategy to implement rules and guidelines about the dos and don’ts of conduct and communication in the online world. The recently amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2016 states that if a child below 18 years of age but above 16 years of age commits heinous crimes, he or she may be tried as an adult upon the recommendation of the Juvenile Justice Board. However, it is silent about cyber offences committed by children. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) under Chapter IV, General Exceptions exempts children above the age of 7 and under the age of 12 are from criminal prosecution regardless of the offense. Though statistics are not available but there have been cases where children have indulged in criminal behavior in the online world such as cyber bullying, stealing personal information, hacking, identity theft, syndicating copyright material and passing it off as one’s own, defamation, viewing and sharing pornography and other such reprehensible behavior. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat some of the popular social networking sites stipulates 13 and above to register as a user and it is a standard form of contract. However, children as young as 6 are creating fake ids and falsifying their age to open an account. From a legal stand point, Section 18 of the Indian Contract Act, criminalizes misrepresentation and misrepresentation of one’s own identity and is an offense under the Indian Penal Code as well. Under the Indian Contract Act, minors are not competent to enter into a contract and therefore the agreements entered into by minors are null and void. The Indian Majority Act clearly provides 18 as the age of majority in India. In this case, such transgressions by children expose them to criminal liability and the adults can be prosecuted for abetment. This further exacerbates the complexities of the cyber world intertwined with the existing legislation and its subjective interpretation. Having said that, lowering the age of criminal responsibility may be a short-term fix to a long-term problem but the treatment is merely symptomatic. As children and women are vulnerable and often the victims of crime than being perpetrators. Also, due to the lack of education with respect to cyber laws and practices, children and even adults view the web as literally a “virtual world” where no such laws and sanctions exist to curtail their actions. However, ignorance of the law is no excuse. How the world is responding to the Global Digital Lawlessness Other countries have already taken steps in this regard. Great Britain has already introduced the Digital Economy Bill 2016–17 on 5th of July 2016. This bill seeks to address policy issues related to electronic communications infrastructure and services and updates the conditions for and sentencing of criminal copyright infringement. Privacy policy, which is a significant part of digital habits and etiquettes, finds protection through laws enacted by a lot of countries including India. In the US the laws that exist are more state-centric and is not legislated on a federal level. However, countries like Italy and Iceland (known as the ‘Switzerland of data’), Germany, France, the EU, Canada and Australia have very strict privacy laws. So, what are we doing about this? Not much so far, unfortunately and we are still struggling with putting legislation in place and gathering support from stakeholders (i.e. IT companies, students, parents/guardian, policy makers, executive machinery, and institutions) to develop a plan to institutionalize and mainstream digital safety and literacy. Creating Deterrents through Cyber Literacy

Cyber Literacy
Digital Citizenship
Stating that the Internet is a vast space is a gross understatement. Efforts directed towards stopping a particular game or laws enacted in isolation will never address the basic malice, the unpreparedness of the Indian citizen to understand and handle the Internet responsibly. There is a pressing need for the government with its vast resources to direct their efforts towards teaching Digital Citizenship and supplementing the ‘Digital India’ campaign with the ‘Good Digital Citizen’ campaign that educates the citizens about the responsible use of the Internet, cyber hygiene and to exercise caution, respect privacy and the rights of the other netizens in the cyber world.

At an academic level, the government may consider the framing of guidelines for a comprehensive age-appropriate syllabus on “Digital Citizenship, Cyber Laws, Cyber Ethics and Cyber Safety” at a school and an institutional level. It is also proposed that such a syllabus should cover the ambit of cyber laws, IPC, POCSO ACT and other related laws and stress on the dos and don’ts with regards to net habits. Examples of cybercrimes could be included to emphasize the need to protect one’s identity. The dangers of cyberbullying and awareness about paedophilic tendencies exhibited on the Internet would go a long way in protecting children, women, and adults in general from being subjected to abuse of any kind on the web. Cyber safety compliances and social media policies should be mandated across the board and cyber protection cells should be established and mandated through law in all educational institutions and organizations. The government may also use the social media and television to target adults to be more aware about their net related practices. This will promote transparency and a healthier net-use atmosphere between parents and children and to engage in safe, ethical and meaningful experiences with today's technology, wherein, netizens are expected to "advocate and practice safe, legal and responsible use of information and technology".

Conclusion: The digital overload that is leading to an explosive situation needs to be addressed on priority. The pace at which digitization is continuing has led to a situation where the present laws, rules, and regulations are outdated. The relentless speed of digital penetration has actually caused privacy to be stripped bare and a digital rogue situation is at hand, which if not handled properly could lead to a breakdown of the society at large. Just as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the fifth Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS) November 2017 shared that “National security agencies from across the world must forge greater collaboration to ward off cyber threats and work together to counter cyber criminals including terrorists” . It is imperative that all the stakeholders (including the IT industry, law enforcement, state actors and legislature) work collaboratively to establish similar rules, expectations, frame appropriate policies and laws for inculcating responsible behavior in the digital world and make Digital Safety and Digital Laws a priority.





The image used is from this pic source: http://www.fractuslearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/digital_citizenship_print.png

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