Reported cases of cyber crime against women and children as well as registered cases of fake news on social media have risen over the last three years, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) — Crime in India 2019 data.
In the recent context of the widely debated law passed (and now withheld) by the Kerala government to curb offensive messages/content, we decided to look at certain crimes reported under the NCRB.
On November 21, the Kerala governor had promulgated an ordinance mandating jail term up to three years and/or a fine up to Rs 10,000 for expressing, publishing or disseminating any abusive, humiliating or defamatory message against a person or a “class of persons.”
The law — Section 118A — states: “Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”
The Kerala government now plans to roll back its decision of implementing the controversial amendment to the Kerala Police Act following widespread opposition and criticism from across the political sphere. Critics have called the government out saying that the law would infringe upon the rights to “free speech/expression and media freedom.”
The Kerala government had claimed that the amendment was to help prevent cyber attacks against women and children. “The rise of crime through social media is a matter of great concern. Some of the recent crimes committed using cyber platforms have caused great concern among our female community. Cyber attacks are also a major threat to private life. It has been decided to amend the Police Act as it is found that the existing legal provisions are inadequate to prevent such crimes,” the government’s press release earlier in October stated.
Here’s what the national crime data show:
As many as 8,379 cases of cyber crime against women were reported across India in 2019, an increase of 39 percent from the previous year. Reported cases of cyber crime against children rose by 31 percent in a year — to 305 cases in 2019.
Kerala reported 139 cases of cyber crime against women in 2019, or less than 2 percent of all the cases reported across the country. It was, however, among the top States with regard to cyber crimes against children, reporting 30 cases in a year, and accounting for 10 percent of all the cases in the country in 2019.
Reported cases for cyber crime against women in Kerala declined by 13 percent in 2019, over the previous year, while reported cases of cyber crime against children increased by 20 percent over the same period. Most cases in the State were reported under the crime-head — cyber pornography/hosting/publishing obscene sexual materials.
Likewise, cases reported under this crime head topped at the national level as well, followed by online stalking/bullying of women/children.
Overall, the reported cases of cyber crimes in India increased 63 percent from 27,248 cases in 2018 to 44,546 cases in 2019. Karnataka reported the most (12,020) cases of cyber crimes in the country, with the highest crime rate (18.2) in cases per lakh population in 2019. Telangana (7.2) and Assam (6.5) were the other States that topped in the crime rate, while Kerala’s rate of cyber crime (0.9) was below the national average (3.3).
The NCRB started publishing data for cyber crimes against women and children in detail from 2017. Likewise, it has also been reporting data on circulation of false/fake news (including on social media) since then.
The menace of false/fake news and rumours continues
The NCRB recorded 476 reported cases of circulation of false/fake news/rumours under section 505 of the Indian Penal Code in 2019 across India, a 70 percent increase in registered cases from the previous year.
Likewise, with regard to cyber crimes, the NCRB categorises ‘fake news on social media’ as an offence under the IT Act — “involving communication devices as medium/target”, together with section 505 of the IPC. Under this, 190 cases were reported across States in 2019, up from 97 cases reported the previous year.
Kerala reported 13 such cases of fake news on social media in 2019, while Tamil Nadu reported the most (41), followed by Andhra Pradesh (36).
It is essential to note that though data indicate a rise in reported cases, it may not necessarily mean an increase in crime, but could also be due to better reporting as a result of facilities — like e-FIRs, women help desks and certain policy initiatives, the NCRB cautions.With regard to the law passed by the Kerala government, though it claimed to address the “problem of cyber bullying and hate speech over social and digital spaces”, the law is not restricted to cyberspace as it does not specifically mention “social or digital media”, keeping its jurisdiction open ended, by targeting “any kind of mode of communication”. This has made it ambiguous.