Net nightmares with no end in sight
Source: The Telegraph
By Nisha Lahiri
Date: December 05, 2003
Mona (name changed) is a manager in a private insurance company. But she’s about to lose her job and is frightened for her safety, as well as that of her family. The reason: a man she met on a matrimonial website is now her stalker, on and offline.
It began with nasty e-mails and SMS — “You look like a prostitute” and “You are a dirty, cheap creep” — which progressed to threats — “If you don’t want me to take any drastic steps, do as you are told or face the consequences and repent all your life” — and then to intimidating phone calls at odd hours of the night.
Mona has filed a complaint with Salt Lake police, but the harassment continues. The latest was a phone call by the stalker to her boss, maligning her character. Frightened, she’s now quitting her job, changing her mobile phone number and surrendering her landline.
Cyber-stalking is the newest nightmare on the Net. With cybercafes mushrooming and chatting becoming the rage, this form of cyber crime in the city is spreading its Net wide. Although no true measurements exist, recent estimates suggest cyber-stalking, or Internet harassment, affects more than four million people worldwide each year, and nearly 80 per cent of the victims are women.
But for this cyber crime, the laws here are woefully inadequate. As another victim, threatened by an obsessive stalker with e-mails like “I will definitely teach you a lesson”, says: “I want to punish him, but I’m afraid of taking the legal route, because it would mean more trouble.”
Deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra points out that most victims who come forward with complaints only want the harassment to stop, rather than the perpetrator to be punished. “If they file a complaint, we help. But we have not had an online harassment victim go to court.” Help from the police, when a victim does agree to pursue the stalker, is little more than “talking to the suspect and warning him to lay off”.
The motives of the online harassers, says established cyber-stalk research, range from obsession, delusion, love and hate to revenge, sexual harassment and ego-boosting power trips. The advantages are many. Cyberspace offers anonymity, and tracing the perpetrator and nailing him is next to impossible (see box).
Wait for support of law to net teases.
There are two types of situations with cyber-stalkers - harassment that sticks to the Net, and stalking that is carried on offline, too. Aarti (name changed) met a man on a chat site, but broke off contact with him after several "unnerving" questions. He bombarded her with in sulting and abusive messages, and passed her ID to others who harassed her, too. Aarti eventually took her friends' help to get rid of the "delusional" man, and ended up never chatting on the Net again.
While the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000 has provisions for many electronic offences, including "publishing of information which is obscene in electronic form" under Section 67, there is no mention of cyber-stalking or online harassment. Neither does any aspect of Section 509 of the IPC (outraging the modesty of a woman) cover cyber-stalking. "The act is vague and unsubstantial, and has insufficient provisions regarding evidence.
There is no way anyone can be convicted for this sort of harassment," observes lawyer Arijit Banerjee. Can't a cyber-stalker be stopped at the source? Arindam Chakraborty of Satyam i-way says that while the bigger chains have in-built safety measures, the smaller neighbourhood cafes rarely both er. "Troublemakers hack into the previous user's account, by using the history tool. There is a software that erases the history once a person logs out, but few cybercafes use it. There is little that can be done till the letter of the law and its method of enforcement are changed."
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