Does the Government have the power to monitor my internet usage? Does this amount to stalking?

If the government decides to monitor your internet usage, it is not an act of stalking, provided:  – 

  • The monitoring was done to prevent or detect any crime and the official accused of stalking had been entrusted with the responsibility of prevention and detection of crime by the state or;
  • The monitoring was pursued under any law like the Information Technology Act. 

Please remember that the government can monitor your data under the Information Technology Law only if it:

  • Is in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India.
  • Is regarding the defence of India and the security of the state.
  • Relates to friendly relations with foreign states.
  • Is to maintain public order.
  • Is to prevent incitement to the commission of any offence under the Information Technology Act.

The agency of the government authorizing the interception and monitoring of the information should state the reasons for monitoring in writing.

How much information do I need to file an online complaint against online abuse ?

Gather as much information as you can. Taking screenshots of relevant messages, conversations, and comments can help your case. For online crimes, you can approach the cyber crime branch of the police. Unlike other crimes, cyber crimes are usually not limited by the jurisdiction within a state. You can report to the cyber cell of any city, even if the offence was committed when you were in a different city. A list of details of cyber crime cells can be accessed here. If you are unable to file a complaint in the cyber cell, you can file an FIR with the local police station. The Women and Child Development ministry has also set up a dedicated cyber cell to help women who have been abused online.

When and how do you file a complaint against online abuse?

There is no minimum threshold for the amount of abuse or harassment you should have suffered before filing a complaint. In the first instance, it may be useful to report such instances to the platform on which the abuse is taking place.(( The Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011.)) If that is ineffective, you can check whether the harassment is similar to any of the situations discussed above.

What do I do if hate messages about a religion are being shared on a whatsapp group? Is this a crime? Can I file a police complaint?

Indian laws have criminalized hate speech against religion under the Indian Penal Code of 1860. Under Section 153A of the Code, a police complaint can be filed against anyone who promotes enmity, disharmony or ill-will between different groups on grounds of religion by words either spoken, written or visuals, or deliberately tries to offend the feelings of any class of people by insulting their religion or religious beliefs. The person can be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or fine or with both.

Impersonation and Sexual Harassment via Whatsapp Groups

In this situation, you can approach the police or cyber cells with a criminal complaint.

As per Section 66D of the Information Technology Act, anyone who cheats other people on Whatsapp by pretending to be someone else can be legally punished. The punishment is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to Rupees one lakh. 

Further, under Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code, any man who makes sexually coloured remarks is punishable for the offence of sexual harassment. The punishment for this is imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine.

A criminal complaint can be filed by the victim of a crime, anyone who knows the victim, or someone who knows that a crime has taken place. To know more about how to file the complaint, read here.

I am being harassed on Facebook by someone living abroad. Do I need to be physically present in India to file a complaint online?

You can file a complaint for online abuse even if you are not physically present in India using the following options:

Online Crime Reporting Portal

You can also lodge a complaint by using the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Online Crime Reporting Portal. You may be redirected to a specific State Government’s website to register a complaint.

Register a complaint in the section “Services for Citizen”, and click on “Report a Cyber Crime ”. Here, you can provide information about the offender, the victim, and the incident along with any supporting evidence, such as screenshots. You can report anonymously or with identification, and you can track your complaint as well.

Cyber Crime Reporting Portal

You can also directly file a complaint on the Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. Complaints can also be made anonymously.  You can complain against various cybercrimes by selecting the option ‘Report Cyber Crime Related to Women/Child’ or ‘Report Other Cyber Crime’. You must login and create an account and select “Report and Track” if you wish to track your complaint.

Stopping the Abuse

Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet, whether it’s over chat, posting on message boards and forums, through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones. 

Online abuse happens on various platforms on the internet such as social media, chat, forums, etc. When faced with online abuse, your first step should be to see what the anti-abuse policy of the platform is, and what steps the platform recommends for you to stop it. We have compiled a list of steps you can take for responding to abuse (blocking and reporting) on Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Reddit, YouTube, WhatsApp, and text messages on your phone.

If the administrators of the platform are not being responsive or you are unhappy with the results, you can also file a criminal complaint at the local police station or cyber investigation cell. It is not necessary for you to get recourse only after approaching the platform administrators. You can directly approach the police station or cyber cell to file a complaint.  When you go to the police station to file a first information report (FIR), the police have to note down the information you provide. Different provisions in law(( The Indian Penal Code, 1860; Information Technology Act, 2000)) make online abuse and online harassment a crime. The victims of such crimes can be male or female.