Recently, the Indian government reported that it is considering enforcing softer punishment for teens and first time offenders involved with cyber crimes. The “graded response” that the government is now contemplating involves a warning, counselling, and parental guidance for such offenders—many of whom, unaware of cyber laws, inadvertently break the law and get caught. If and when these measures do not work, an FIR will be launched.
While the discussions between the Home Ministry and IT Department for the framework of such a response have only just begun, and it will probably be a while before its implementation, the fact that the government realizes and understands the impressionability of many young offenders is a truly positive sign.
Many offenders do not have malicious intentions; often, they do not even know that their actions may be illegal. Experts also feel that the legal proceedings against first-time and young offenders negatively affect their education and career and cause extreme social disgrace that is incongruous with their harmless intentions. Currently, under the Information Technology Act, uploading and disseminating communally sensitive, sexually explicit and “objectionable” images, videos, and messages carries a penalty of seven years in jail.
Some Internet practices that are common yet illegal are:
Downloading pirated or copyrighted material
This is probably the most prevalent of cyber crimes around the world. Internet users download music, movies, software, literature, and so on, even though most are fully aware that it is illegal. Under the IT Act of India, this can result in three years of imprisonment.
Giving False Information
In order to access some of their content or services or such, many websites require users to enter their phone numbers or email IDs. Not wanting to be bothered by pesky phone calls or emails, people often enter random numbers and IDs that may belong to someone else; this is against the law.
Online Trading in Foreign Currencies
Many people have started to use websites enabling foreign exchange trade to make quick money. Under Indian legislation and according to the Reserve Bank of India, people may trade as long as the rupee is involved—traders cannot trade with two foreign currencies. Since these sites put earnings directly on the user’s credit card, people remain unaware of this law and continue unwittingly breaking it.
Pretending to be someone else is considered a serious legal offence, as is creating fake profiles and email IDs. Young people often do so to play pranks on their friends without realizing the grave implications their actions can have.
Mixing Official and Personal Mail
Sending confidential information from one’s employer to a personal email ID without authorization is another widespread yet illegal practice.
In the past, the Indian government has often shown itself to be absolutely out of sync with the wide world of the Internet (as with the issues of web censorship). However, this declaration of intent comes as a long-awaited sign of adaptation and a welcome step in the right direction.
Severely punishing young users for actions which were not meant to harm is truly pointless, and a softer, more practical response is indeed a better solution to the problem.