Browsing child porn sites set to be a crime
Swati Deshpande | TNN
Mumbai: The newly passed Information Technology Bill is set to make it illegal to not only create and transmit child pornography in any electronic form, but even to browse it. The punishment for a first offence of publishing, creating, exchanging, downloading or browsing any electronic depiction of children in “obscene or indecent or sexually explicit manner’’could be five years in jail and a fine of Rs 10 lakh.
In its first comprehensive amendment nine years after it was first enacted, the Information Technology Act also proposes to bring “cyber terrorism’’, “identity theft’’ and “violation of privacy’’ into the domain of independent cyber crime. Critics of the Bill, which is awaiting Presidential assent, say it enables the government to snoop into citizens’ computers while investigating “any offence’’. The bill has, however, broken new ground by identifying several new offences and making them punishable.
Cyber law changes: Big impact
Mumbai: The greater specificity of the amended information technology law will change the way cyber crime is dealt with, say experts. Section 67 of the existing Information Technology Act deals with “publishing obscene information in electronic form’’. It is a generally worded section that does not specifically define “pornography’’ or make it an offence, and does not mention “child pornography’’ at all. But in its amended avatar, Section 67B proposes specifically to punish involvement in sexually explicit online or electronic content that depicts children. It will also be an offence to “cultivate, entice or induce children to online relationship with other children for a sexual act.’’
“The amendments will have a huge impact on the way cyber crimes are handled and investigated in India,’’ said advocate Pavan Duggal, a cyber law specialist in Delhi. Mumbai-based cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi concurred. Both experts noted that an offence of “cyber terrorism’’ punishable with life imprisonment, for instance, is a vital new addition, and that its definition is exhaustive.
Duggal said, “Once the bill becomes an act, Section 67B will have a huge positive impact, primarily because India does not have a special legislation to tackle child pornography. To that extent, the new IT law is path-breaking’’.
Legal experts note that while the amendments don’t make it illegal to view adult porn, they do make watching child porn an offence (the law would apply to “whoever creates text or digital images, collects, seeks, browses, downloads’’ child porn). The fear is that the section would kick in
even if sites were opened accidentally, because a computer may store information about such a site being accessed.
Experts say it is well known that porn sites, especially child porn, are often hidden in spyware or malware, or viruses. Sometimes they are disguised through the use of misleading keywords. “It could even be email spam. And since the amendments do not specially talk of the ‘intention’ of the offender, there could be a huge problem, as the provision could be open to tremendous misuse by either the police or one’s enemies,’’ said an advocate.
Rakesh Maria, joint police commissioner who heads the Cyber Crime Cell in Mumbai sought to allay fears about such misuse. He told TOI that “browsing alone will not attract any punishment. It is nothing to worry about. The police will have to prove intention. In any crime, intention or ‘mens rea’ (guilty mind) plays a key role.’’
Maria said the amendments, especially the punishment for cyber terrorism, are “landmark’’ legal provisions. “We have to look into the future, which is what the act proposes to do. The centre has added a lot of teeth to the cyber laws now.’’
Punishment for stealing and using someone’s “password or digital signature’’ will attract up to three years’ imprisonment and a Rs 1 lakh fine. But the offence is bailable, and some consider the fine “too low’’, considering the victim’s loss could run into crores.
Maria said police were getting a few complaints of identity theft and online impersonation. He is happy that a new law is imminent before online crimes escalate. The law defines a child as anyone below 18 years, in contrast to the age limit of 14 in many developed countries. Duggal asks, “What would happen on social networking sites if two older teens were to expose themselves in an online video chat?’’
Child porn offences
Crimes include publishing, exchanging or distributing material in any e-form, depicting children in obscene manner
Cultivating, enticing or inducing children to online relationship with other children for sexual acts