Q What is the context ?
A Taking cognizance of multiple complaints that photographs of women had been posted on a mobile app for fake auctions, the police in Delhi and Mumbai have registered cases.
Q What is the controversy?
- Hundreds of women in India including journalists, social workers, and other prominent personalities found their images and derogatory content about them on a new app.
- The app was created on hosting platform Github, offered an online “auction” of women (esp from a particular community).
- This controversy is part of the routine harassment women faced on social media in an increasingly polarized communal environment.
Q How much is the extent of Online Abuse of Women ?
- Online abuse includes a diversity of tactics and malicious behaviors ranging from:
- Sharing embarrassing and cruel content about a person to impersonation
- Stalking and electronic surveillance
- Nonconsensual use of photography
- Violent threats and hate speech
- Flaming- use of vitriolic and hostile messages including threats, insults
- The online harassment of women, sometimes called Cybersexism or cybermisogyny, is specifically gendered abuse targeted at women and girls online.
- It incorporates sexism, racism and religious prejudice.
Q What is the recent controversy: A critical case of abuse ?
- The app is clearly an example of online trolling where the dignity and modesty of a woman is highly downgraded.
- This has not been the very first time. Earlier, no arrests were ever made showing Police inaction.
- The authorities were using the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to obtain information about the creators of such apps from California-based GitHub.
Q What are Legal provisions against such Crimes ?
A For making arrests, the police have invoked Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 354D, 500 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act.
- Section 153A pertains to the offence of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony
- Section 153B relates to imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration
- Section 295A provides punishment for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings
- Section 354D provides that any man who monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication with malintent, commits the offence of stalking.
- Section 500 defines the punishment for defamation
- Section 509 addresses the offence of word, gesture or act intended insulting the modesty of a woman
- Section 67 of the IT Act lays down the punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form
Penalty for such crime
- The first conviction attracts imprisonment up to three years and fine up to ₹5 lakh and the second or subsequent conviction may lead to imprisonment up to five years and fine that may extend to ₹10 lakh.
Q What are the other provisions related to cybercrimes?
- Section 66E of the IT Act prescribes punishment for violation of privacy.
- Also, sections 354A (sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment) and 354C (voyeurism) of the IPC were introduced along with sections 354B and 354D in 2013.
- These may also be applied in conjunction with the relevant IT Act provisions, based on the nature of the offence.
Q What are the responsibilities of intermediaries like social media platforms?
- As of now, the intermediaries are not liable for any third-party data or communication link hosted or stored by them.
- They are required to retain the requisite data for duration as prescribed by the Government and supply the same to the authorities concerned, as and when sought.
- Any contravention attracts punishment as prescribed under the IT Act.
Q What are additional steps been taken ?
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
- Its provision —“Due diligence by intermediaries and grievance redressal mechanism” —requires them to inform their users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any illegal information.
- They include contents that are defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender, libellous, racially or ethnically objectionable, etc.
- The intermediaries, on the direction of the court or appropriate government agency, are prohibited from hosting, storing or publishing any information declared unlawful.
- Within 24 hours from the receipt of a complaint from, or on behalf of, an individual about any offensive content, they are required to take all reasonable and practicable measures to remove or disable access to it.
Q What can be Way forward ?
- The government can take action beyond passing and enforcing platform regulations.
- It can promote digital education to recognize and report inappropriate online conduct and to communicate respectfully online.
- Social media companies have the primary responsibility to prevent the amplification of online abuse and disinformation.
- Gender-based harassment is marked by the intent of the harasser to denigrate the target on the basis of sex.
- But this proliferation of online harassment of women has now incorporated religious polarization.
- This is very harmful for the existing communal harmony of the nation in the long run.