Before we understand the concept of cyberstalking, we need to define stalking. Tjaden and Thoennes, in their study, said stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, non-consensual communication, or verbal, written or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.
It means to pursue someone stealthily. And, stealth implies secrecy and as in our natural world, the cyber world presents a lot of opportunity to users to stalk an individual.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is said to have occurred when a person is harassed, bullied, defamed and has his/her privacy violated and threatened online. Cyberstalking may originate online but follows through with real life consequences.
Unintentionally, many leave a big trail of personal information and photos. In cases of cyberstalking, the stalker uses these information to create fear and bully their victims.
With the advent of social media and advancing technologies, such stalking has taken new avatars such as trolling, threats in the form of morphed videos and pictures. The Internet assures the perpetrators of such stalking a certain degree anonymity, and this coupled with a relative lack of caution on the part of users, makes it easy for stalkers to commit crimes.
The study notes, “A cyberstalker does not present a direct threat to a victim, but follows the victim’s online activity to gather information and make threats or other forms of verbal intimidation. A potential stalker may not want to confront and threaten a person offline, but may have no problem threatening or harassing a victim through the Internet or other forms of electronic communications.”
The online medium, in a way, gives a person a sense of anonymity that makes him/her believe that “if there’s no person in real, then there’s no consequence.”
Also read: How to address cyberbullying
Laws against cyberstalking
The victims of cyberstalking have recourse under the IPC rather than IT Act, 2000. IT Act had vaguely dealt with cyberstalking under Section 66 A, but in 2015 the Supreme court of India quashed the provision citing that it violates the constitutional right to free speech.
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2008 (ITAA 2008) states,
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages (Inserted vide ITAA 2008) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
So the victims have to turn to Sections 354C, D which deal with voyeuris:m and stalking.
As per section 354-D, if any man “(i) follows, contacts or attempts to contact” repeatedly despite her indication of disinterest, (ii) “monitors the use by woman of internet, email or any other form of electronic communication” commits stalking.
As for as theft of identity, resources and breach of confidentiality and privacy of the information online are concerned, Sections 66-C, 43 and 72 of the IT Act come into operation.
Section 292 & 354 C of the IPC and section 67 of the IT Act deals voyeurism, dissemination of private information and publishing of obscene information, respectively.
What should victims of cyberstalking do?
- The most important aspect is to not give in to the instinctive need to delete any sensitive information, communication from the stalker. It is imperative that the victim saves the information in some form and preferably, in a physical storage device, like a pen drive, DVD.
- Take screenshots of the image on screen and printouts immediately.
- Record any phone conversation or chats. There are plenty of third-party applications that provide the facility to record phone conversations and chat histories.
- Report any abuse to the intermediary service providers and websites immediately.
- Report any crime without hesitation to the authorities of the cyber crime cell.
- Stalking in America: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, by by Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes
- The Centre for Internet and Society: Section 66A of the Information Technology Act