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Online/cyber stalking: Critical Study

Stalking is any repeated and unwanted contact with you that makes you feel unsafe. You can be stalked by a stranger, but most stalkers are people you know even an intimate partner. Stalking may get worse or become violent over time. Stalking may also be a sign of an abusive relationship.

Someone who is stalking you may threaten your safety by clearly saying they want to harm you. Some stalkers harass you with less threatening but still unwanted contact. The use of technology to stalk, sometimes called cyber stalking, involves using the Internet, email, or other electronic communications to stalk someone. Stalking is against the law.

Cyber stalking is stalking or harassment carried out over the internet. It might target individuals, groups, or even organizations and can take different forms including slander, defamation and threats. Motives may be to control or intimidate the victim or to gather information for use in other crimes, like identity theft or offline stalking. While blame shouldn’t be placed on cyber stalking victims, the current online landscape lends itself to creating easy targets. For example, nowadays, many social media users think nothing of publicly posting personal information, sharing their feelings and desires, publishing family photos and more.

What is cyberstalking?

As mentioned, cyber stalking can take many different forms, but in the broadest sense, it is stalking or harassment that takes place via online channels such as social media, forums or email. It is typically planned and sustained over a period of time.

Cases of cyber stalking can often begin as seemingly harmless interactions. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, a few strange or perhaps unpleasant messages may even amuse you. However, if they become systematic, it becomes annoying and even frightening.

For example, if you’ve received a few negative comments on Facebook and Instagram, it may upset or annoy you, but this isn’t cyber stalking yet. For some people, such as semi-celebrities looking for attention, negative comments are actually welcomed.

However, once you start receiving unwanted and annoying messages repeatedly and feel harassed, then the line has likely been crossed. Cyber stalkers might terrorize victims by sending unpleasant messages systematically, perhaps even several times a day. It is especially unnerving when such messages come from different accounts managed by the same person. It is probably a good idea to report this to both the website owners and law enforcement agencies.

Cyber stalking doesn’t have to involve direct communication, and some victims may not even realize they are being stalked online. Perpetrators can monitor victims through various methods and use the information gathered for crimes like identity theft. In some cases, the line between cyberspace and real life can become blurred. Attackers can collect your personal data, contact your friends and attempt to harass you offline.

Examples of cyber stalking include:

  • Sending unwanted, frightening, or obscene emails, text messages, or instant messages (IMs)
  • Harassing or threatening you on social media
  • Tracking your computer and internet use
  • Using technology such as GPS to track where you are

How to avoid cyberstalking?

As with many things in life, it’s better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to cyber stalking. Becoming a victim will be far less likely if you follow our five simple tips below. These guidelines will enable you to enjoy all the benefits of online communication while remaining completely safe.

  1. Keep A Low Profile
    Keeping a subdued online existence is tough for some people, especially those who need to use online platforms for self-promotion or business-related activities. However, many users could benefit from toning things down a little. You should always avoid posting personal details such as your address and phone number, and think carefully about revealing real-time information such as where you are and who you’re with.

    In an ideal world, you would avoid using your real name in online profiles. While this is difficult for anything work-related, it’s quite feasible for things like forums, message boards and certain social media accounts. For example, you can use a nickname on Instagram or Twitter.

    If you must maintain your real name and photo, be very wary about whom you accept connection requests and messages from. If it’s not a friend, relative or colleague, do some checks before moving forward.

    In some cases, it’s almost impossible to avoid revealing personal information and connecting with people you don’t know, for example, on dating websites. Unfortunately, these are popular with scammers, and you may even end up chatting with a potential cyberstalker. For this reason, it’s best to stick with reputable sites, do some research about a suitor before revealing personal information or meeting in person and report any activity that makes you feel uncomfortable to the site’s administrators.
  2. Update Your Software
    Keeping your software up-to-date may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about cyber stalking prevention. However, regular software updates are crucial when it comes to preventing information leaks. Many updates are developed to patch security vulnerabilities and help ensure your information remains safe.

    They are especially important for mobile devices which contain valuable data and track your exact location. There are numerous cases in which cyberstalking begins when an attacker pays someone to hack your email or phone and uses the gathered information against you. Such, protecting yourself from hackers is key to cyber stalking prevention.
  3. Hide Your IP Address
    Many applications and services reveal your IP address to the person with whom you’re communicating. This may seem unimportant, but this information is directly related to your personal data. For example, your IP address is linked to the internet bill that is sent to your home and which you pay with your credit card. Cyber stalkers can begin with your IP address and use it to find your credit card data and physical address.

    To mask your IP address you can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This hides your real IP address and replaces it with from a location of your choice, so you could even appear to be in a different country. It also encrypts all of your internet traffic, keeping it safe from the prying eyes of hackers.

    Another option is to use the Tor browser. This also encrypts your traffic, although it may raise flags for law enforcement agencies as it’s commonly used by criminals themselves. For the ultimate in privacy and anonymity, you can combine Tor and a VPN. Note that it’s not recommended you use a web proxy or a free VPN service, as these can often harm your online security more than they help it.
  4. Maintain Good Digital Hygiene
    Digital hygiene is a new term but represents a very important topic, especially with regard to social networks. Maintaining good digital hygiene helps protect you from cyber harassment, cyber bullying and cyber stalking. Adjusting privacy settings is one of the first steps you can take to clean up your accounts. Most social media platforms and some other types of online accounts will let you adjust who can see your profile and contact you.

    It’s also a good idea to keep things like your timelines, feeds and message threads free from negative comments. Aside from potentially fueling more negativity from others, these can have a significant emotional impact when you re-read them. For example, psychological support is regularly provided to website moderators, as they seriously suffer from reading aggressive messages, even those that aren’t sent to them personally.

    Social media hygiene is especially important for girls and women. Studies show that although the majority of internet attacks are aimed at men, cyber stalking, in particular, is mostly aimed at women.
  5. Avoid Disclosing Sensitive Information
    Surprisingly, many people constantly share personal information about themselves, even outside of social media platforms. By filling out questionnaires or submitting applications for coupons, you are increasing the likelihood of someone getting their hand on your personal data and possibly making cyber stalking more accessible.

What to do in case you are being cyber stalked

Block the person
Don’t hesitate to apply all measures permitted by law, especially those offered by web services. If the tools are there, block anyone who you wish to stop hearing from, even if these messages are just annoying and not yet threatening. Only you can decide when this boundary has been passed.

Report to the platform involved
If someone is harassing or threatening you, you should block them immediately and report their behavior to the platform involved. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,and many other platforms have created easy-to-use buttons to quickly report abusive behavior.

Even if you think you are rid of the perpetrator, they may come back or pursue more victims. Law enforcement agencies do not always have the technical ability to protect you from cyberstalking, but platform moderators usually respond quickly and delete attackers’ profiles.

Call the police
If you believe their behavior is illegal or you fear for your safety, then you should contact the police and report the cyber stalker. Even if you don’t have enough information or evidence for them to prosecute immediately, the report will go on record and the police can offer advice about what to do if the perpetrator persists.

Legal Provisions on Cyber stalking and Online Harassment

Punishment for cyber stalking and online harassment under the Indian Penal Code

  • Section 354 D of the Indian Penal Code which was added by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 specifically proscribes the act of stalking as Whoever follows a person and contacts, or attempts to contact such person to foster personal interaction repeatedly, despite a clear indication of disinterest by such person, or whoever, monitors the use by a person of the Internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, or watches or spies on a person in a manner that results in a fear of violence or serious alarm or distress in the mind of such person, or interferes with the mental peace of such person, commits the offence of stalking.
  • The victim can also additionally file a case of defamation (Section 499, IPC) against the offender. The section has bailed out those acts of stalking which are performed for the purpose of preventing and detecting crime by a person who has been entrusted with such responsibility by the state. Also, instances where pursuing such conduct was reasonable or where the person was authorized under any act cannot allude to the offence of stalking.
  • Section 354A of IPC punishes offence of sexual harassment with 3 years of imprisonment and/or fine.
  • Section 354C criminalizes the offence of Voyeurism. It is defined as the act of capturing the image of a woman engaging in a private act, and/or disseminating said image, without her consent. The section prescribes 3 years of imprisonment for the first conviction and 7 years of imprisonment on second conviction along with fine.
  • Section 503 punishes criminal intimidation as threats made to any person with injury to her reputation, either in order to cause alarm to her, or to make her change her course of action regarding anything she would otherwise do/not do. The offences under S. 499 and S. 503 are punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years, and/or fine.
  • Section 509 of IPC comes to your rescue if someone is constantly bugging you withderogatory verbal abuse because of your gender. The section provides that any person who utters any word or makes any sound or gesture, intending that such word, sound or gesture be heard or seen by a woman and insult her modesty, shall be punished with one-year imprisonment and/or fine.
  • Section 507 punishes criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication with a term which may extend to two years of imprisonment. Vengeful posting of images or videos of rape victims is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years and fine under section 228a of IPC.

The Information Technology Act, 2008

The IT Act of 2008 does not directly deal with the offence of stalking.

Section 72 of the Act is used to deal with the offence of stalking which reads as follows: Any person who, in pursuant of any of the powers conferred under this Act, rules or regulations made there under, has:

  • secured access to any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material
  • without the consent of the person concerned
  • Discloses such electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material to any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.

Section 67 prohibits and punishes with imprisonment extending up to three years and fine for the first conviction and to five years and fine upon second conviction, the publication, transmission and causing of transmission of obscene content.

Section 67A has culled out a special category called material containing a ‘sexually explicit act’. The publication, transmission or causing of transmission of such material is punishable with imprisonment extending up to five years and fine for first conviction and to seven years and fine upon second conviction.

How to lodge a complaint

The Information Technology Act provides that notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, any police officer, not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police, or any other officer of the Central Government or a State Government authorized by the Central Government in this behalf may enter any public place and search and arrest without warrant any person found therein who is reasonably suspected or having committed or of committing or of being about to commit any offence under this Act.

(Section 80) Cyber crimes do not have a jurisdiction as these crimes committed without any barrier of boundaries. So, you can report a cyber-crime to the cybercrime units of any city irrespective of the place where it was committed.

· Cyber Cells: Cyber Cells have been established to provide redressal to the victims of cyber crime. These cells function as a part of the criminal investigation department and specifically deal with internet related criminal activity. If you do not a cyber-cell at your place of residence, then you can file an F.I.R in a local police station. You can also approach the commissioner or the judicial magistrate of your city, if by any reason you are unable to file an F.I.R. Any police station is bound to register an F.I.R., irrespective of its jurisdiction.

· Online Grievance Redressal: Police is the most notorious law enforcement agency in India when it comes to dealing with women victims. Even when women have easy access to a police station, they hesitate in reporting the incident to them, under the fear of being harassed and being made to suffer additional ordeal. As a result, such crimes committed against women remain swept under the rug and women continue to bear the brunt of harassment. So, women who do not want to come out in the open can file a complaint against stalking at the National Commission for Women. The Commission takes up the matter with the police and expedites the investigation. In cases of serious offences, the commission can set up an inquiry committee to probe into the matter and conduct spot inquiry, collect evidence, and examine witnesses, summon accused and police records, etc to further the investigation.

· Report to the websites: Most of the social media websites where users make their accounts provide a reporting mechanism. These websites are obliged under the IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 to act within 36 hours to disable information related to offending content. The intermediary shall have to preserve such information and associated records for at least ninety days for investigation purposes. The affected person can bring to the knowledge of the intermediary, any offending content which is hosted, stored, or published on his computer system, in writing or through email signed with electronic signature.

· Report to CERT: The Information Technology Amendment Act 2008 has designated the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) as the national nodal agency for tackling the issues occurring in tow with computer security threats. They issue guidelines on the procedure, prevention, reporting, and response to cyber incidents, among other functions.

What can be reported to CERT?

Both the users and System Administrators can approach CERT-IN to report about computer security incidents and vulnerabilities. CERT-IN is at your disposal to provide technical assistance if the users experience any the following violations:

  • Email related issues viz. mail bombing, spamming etc.
  • Processing and storing data by unauthorised use of a system
  • Making changes into the software characteristics, system hardware or firmware without obtaining the consent of the owner or without the knowledge or instruction of the owner
  • Attempt to obtain unauthorised access to a system or data contained therein. Attempt includes both successful and failed attempt
  • Disruption or denial of service

How to report incidents to CERT-IN

You can report an incident to CERT by sending them an electronic mail, calling them, or filling up a form available on their website, or by fax.

  • Through Website: You can also report the incident on the website of CERT-IN by filling up an incident-reporting form. Try to fill all the details as it will help CERT to understand the gravity and nature of the incident and assist in recovery as desired by you.
  • Through Electronic Mail: The CERT-IN email address for reporting incidents is [email protected]‖. For all other inquiries and correspondence, write to info
  • Through Telephone and Fax: Contact CERT-In on +91-11-24368572. Incident report can be faxed to CERT-In at +91-11-24368546.
  • Postal Address: Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, Electronics Niketan, 6, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003, India.

Cases of Cyberstalking:

Seema Khanna (name changed), an employee with an embassy in New Delhi, know that web surfing would lead to an invasion of her privacy.

In an apparent case of cyber stalking, Khanna (32) received a series of e-mails from a man asking her to either pose in the nude for him or pay Rs 1 lakh to him. In her complaint to Delhi Police, the woman said she started receiving these mails in the third week of November.

The accused threatened Khanna that he would put her morphed pictures on display at sex websites, along with her telephone number and address. He also allegedly threatened to put up these pictures in her neighborhood in southwest Delhi. Initially, she ignored the mails, but soon she started receiving letters through post, repeating the same threat. She was forced to report the matter to the police," said an officer with cyber-crime cell That, however, was not the end of her ordeal. The accused mailed the woman her photographs. The woman claimed these were the same photographs which she had kept in her mail folder. The police said the accused had hacked her e-mail password which enabled him to access the pictures.

In the Vinupriya case, the victim was a 21-year-old student from Salem who had finished her BSc in chemistry. A person had posted morphed nude and semi-nude photographs of Vinupriya on Facebook. On June 23, 2016, when the first obscene photograph appeared, she informed her parents, who then lodged a complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell.

The police, either lacking the investigative skills to trace the origin of the photograph or lacking interest, told Vinupriya’s father that they would nab the culprit in two weeks. On June 26, another obscene photograph was posted on Facebook, leaving Vinupriya traumatised. The investigating officer assumed that she must have sent those pictures to someone and now they were being posted, perhaps by a jilted lover. The questioning of Vinupriya was along those lines. It humiliated her and on June 27, she hanged herself.

To prevent being a victim of cyber-crime, a person should quickly take action against the criminal. She should make a complaint to the Cyber Crime Investigation Cell, a branch of the Criminal Investigation Department. These cells exist in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Gurgaon, Pune, Lucknow, and other major cities. As women are mainly victims of this crime, it is necessary to improve the investigative mechanism for cyber-crimes. Then only will women feel safe and empowered.

Dos and Dont's

  • As cyber-crimes are committed in a virtual world, it becomes difficult to collect evidence against the offender. So, do not immediately delete the photos, mails, or any other information sent by the stalker as this can help the investigators to trace the trail of his online activities and track him.
  • Cyber stalkers can easily hide evidence of their online activity, so preserving his evidence via printouts or screenshots can come very handy.
  • Report the incident to the website in question.
File a First Information Report to enable commencement of the investigation of the cyber-crime.

Suggestions to avoid becoming a victim of cyber Stalking:

  1. Avoid Posting Personal Data on Your Social Media Accounts
  2. Conduct an Internet Search of Your Name Regularly
  3. Be Mindful of Your Passwords
  4. Beware of Emails, Texts, Phone Calls that Asks for your Personal Information
  5. Change all Account Security If You Are Leaving a Relationship
  6. Seek Professional Help If You Are Being Cyber stalked

Written by: Adv. S.Selvakumari,
Bombay High Court

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