Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Amending existing laws to accommodate cybercrimes, a flawed approach

Indian newspapers recently carried reports captioned “Crimes against women: Send porn MMS, emails, land in jail for 3 yrs, pay Rs 50,000 fine. Cybercrime through filming and distributing of porn mmses of unsuspecting women, have always captured newspaper headlines in India. Publicized cases have been few and convictions almost negligible.

According to these reports an amendment to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986 was cleared by the Indian Cabinet which brought in stringent penalties for transgressors using electronic media. Until now the 26 year old act, only covered print advertisement and publications

When I read the fine print of the amendment it struck me that this was not in the least a law against cybercrime, only an amendment to include the indecent representation of women in electronic advertisements. Beyond proving how newspaper headlines can be fallacious, it amply establishes that cyber laws are daunting to enact, and far from practical implementation.

Trying to amend old laws to accommodate new behavior in the Internet era is fundamentally flawed, though it may be a quick fix.  In the past, by using print media, it was arduous for ordinary individuals to distribute indecent content to scale. Consequently, when the act was written, twenty-six years ago, it never considered this as an issue. But today, in the electronic world, equipped with a mobile phone camera and the Internet, anyone with a dirty motive or opportunity can do it. Such indecent online postings by solitary individuals like trolls, bullies, pornographers, or even cybercitizens settling scores online are commonplace.
New laws to tackle cybercrime must be written which embody the new genre of criminal behavior and cybercitizen misdemeanors.

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