Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#MeToo : Tales of victimisation in real life as well as on internet

Way back in 2012 my sister gave me some Hollywood magazines which she was reading in her long flight to India. These are the tit-bits for any reader who would like to know what is happening with the lives of film stars and celebrities who mesmerise us on screen. I got to see how several film stars of West including Hollywood were affected by voyeurism by enthusiastic fans and profit making photographers. Indeed these fans and photographers may make huge money because of a huge group of consumers: the common cine lovers. Soon there was more news about celebrity hacks; their gym photos, private holiday photos, private moment photos, private bathing photos were leaked online and by the time one or two victims could get back to the police; the world knew about their private lives. The positive point to think over this issue is, several women film actors had taken such online privacy infringement seriously and either took the matter to the police or had filed law suits against gossip magazines or channels who unethically published their private photos or videos. I call this “positive” because these women had defied the common understanding that approaching the police or the courts for online harassment including sexual harassment like leaking of private photos or videos is nothing but publicity stunt. Unfortunately in India several female film stars including upcoming film stars or serial actors also fall prey to the same sort of victimisation and when they turn towards the police or the courts, many a times, it is seen as publicity stunt: not to forget, their Western counter parts also do go through the same. But at the same time, I have not found many Indian women film stars and serial actors who took the matters of online sexual victimisation as seriously as their Western counter parts ( I addressed this issue in my article “Celebrities and cyber crimes: An analysis of the victimisation of female film stars on the internet” http://www.doiserbia.nb.rs/img/doi/1450-6637/2016/1450-66371604355H.pdf ).
But women actors may be the most ‘exploited’ species among working women: consider the blunt, straight forward speech of Madona during Woman of the year award in 2016. Social media channels were flooded with comments, emogies and thumbs ups praising her for boldly expressing how she had been sexually violated in real life and how she continues to be violated online at present. Why she had to be the victim of sexual violation? Apparently it is because of the presence of ‘God fathers’ in the workplace who may coerce the women to enter into a non-consensual sexual relationship which would ensure continuous job protection. For the last couple of days, several female actors from Hollywood have started protesting against such sexual exploitation with #metoo . The campaign had been so strong and viral that it has touched almost all continents and millions of women who may have been sexually victimised or violated either by way of penetrative sexual assault or by non-penetrative sexual assault or by sexual harassment in workplaces, public places as well as in their homes, have opened up about their victimisation.
India has also been touched by #MeToo campaign. Several women have expressed their solidarity by pasting on their time line the following lines:"Me too... If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me Too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.". This was originally shared by actress Alyssa Milano and others as a protest against sexual victimisation by Harvey Weinstein, a noted  producer-distributor who had been ousted from Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on 15th October, 2017.
Most of my 900 friends on Facebook who had been sporting #MeToo in their profile time lines for past 72 hours had been sharing several forms of victimisation; most common is definitely sexual gazing at public places and work places. I had posted in my time line about online sexist comments and pornographic  stuff including misogynist posts which I often get to see in my message box (thanks to continuous privacy ‘tactics’ that I practice for  my Twitter and Facebook timelines, I do not get to see such violating and victimising stuff in my time-line except on rare occasions). Several of my friends and acquaintances have simply shared the  “metoo” message  to show their solidarity with the cause, which I am sure, has definitely affected them, but they may not be feeling comfortable to openly express the same. Two posts however have actually attracted my attention even though they do not speak about cyber sexual victimisation or workplace victimisation : one by Sauranshu Sinha from Delhi and the other by Dr. Kalki Subramaniam from Pondicherry. The latter, a transgender activist and a trans-woman herself wrote a poignant note using #metoo. A part of her message (which is open for public) reads as follows “.........................................Around the world, every transgender woman, and in India almost every cis/transwoman goes through this brutal, uncouth, insensible torture. No more can they do it to me today. I stand tall and strong. Yet, i must say I was a victim too.”
Sinha is the first man I noticed who wrote about his experience of being sexually violated when he was a 6th standard student. A part of his message (which is open for public viewing) using #metoo stated that while he was travelling in a bus, a man touched him inappropriately and opened his zip to show Sinha his private parts (translated from Bengali). Sinha was a victim of sexual exploitation as a young boy who shared his solidarity with #metoo.
I know several of my friends, women and men who did not share their own experiences or neither shared #metoo, would have been victims themselves at one or other point of time. There are several individuals who may probably never understand that even comments like “hi sexy” or “wanna talk, reply back” may also be victimising especially when the receiver feels insulted, hurt, alarmed or feels his/her modesty has been harmed. There are several victims of online sexual harassment who may never speak up about their bitter experiences due to fear of more exposure. Thousands of women may remain silent even when their friends are marching along with #metoo to expose the sorts of victimisation they had gone through and alert the society.  Yet, I welcome #metoo campaigners. When people dare to share, there remain positive chances for the policy makers and law-makers to executors to note the pain. Let us hope that #metoo brings a change not only in the mindsets of people, but also in the process of implementation of laws. We need to understand that women who had been victimised and turned up to share their experiences, should get due protection and respect from all of us. Let us unite to defy sexist misogynist trolls from making #metoo and all of us victims again.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2017), "#MeToo : Tales of victimisation in real life as well as on internet, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Virtual friendship: what’s the reality in it for women

6th August, 2017 my WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts were flooded with Happy friendship images. I was not well aware about friendship day as I was for Raksha Bandhan because back in our school days, we loved to wait for  “Rakhi” which used to come in different shapes made of colourful  sponge  topped with tiny little shining stars. Irrespective of gender, we used to tie Rakhi on each other’s hands and gift our own crafts (the “home made Rakhi”) to our elders, teachers and our best-friends. In my family, this was an occasion to pamper our grandfather with our own Rakhi who was generous enough to give us the sisters a treat in a nearby Chinese restaurant for “rakhi”. My family was not alone in celebrating Rakhi in such a manner. There were many families irrespective of religion who would extend Rakhi greetings and children would come over to each other’s places to show their Rakhi that they got from their siblings, friends or even grandparents. That was our ‘friendship day’ too as we the Bengalis carefully nurtured the custom of strengthening social bond with tying of Rakhi to our friends irrespective of their religion, cast or place of birth, instilled by none other than Rabindra Nath Tagore. We never saw texts wishing of “rakhi” or “Freindship day”. The greetings cards made especially for this were special items in gift shops which some of us bought for presenting a ‘memorable gift’ to their acquaintances. That was some thing REAL in real world.
There were spats of incidences this Friendship day and Raksha Bandhan day which made me think where we are heading to:
People wish happy friendship day to strangers whom they have never met or heard their voices in their lives. Women especially are flooded with such messages accompanied with images from ‘friends’ all over the world. An expert researcher may definitely find a nexus between sending friendship messages and subsequent online harassment to these ‘friends’. Such messages actually initiate a strange relationship and may even make women recipients believe that the senders have genuine interest in extending friendship. This internet culture is especially noticeable in young women and also first time users of social media including messaging apps in the smart phones. The virtual friendship or even any relationship can be so addictive that individuals may even forget their real life family or friends with whom one has actually grown up. Unfortunately there is no law for internet-deaddiction or rather virtual relationship deaddiction. Laws are made to control crime or prevent escalation of crimes. But consider when individuals forget their liabilities and duties to their real life family members or friends for their virtual relationships: a unique condition may arise in such cases where the neglected member may have to plead to the courts for directing the concerned person to ‘pay attention’ failing which, he/she may have to ‘pay’ for his/her irresponsible nature. Such unique conditions may include not only negligence of his /her moral responsibilities towards own families including caring for older or younger generations or dependants, but also may include exposing own family members or real life friends to extreme danger including various types online offences whereby the latter’s privacy may be infringed due to callousness of the earlier.
August is the beginning of  festive season in India, followed by major festive months including September and October. Let us share the happiness and positiveness among our family and friends first and then to our virtual friends some of whom may not even be “real”. We need to understand that once the family unit provides a strong mental support to any individual including children, no negative force may destroy the inner peace and yes, the reputation of the said person. Sharing happiness and sorrows alike may also make it easier for any one especially women and girls  to combat online harassment especially those kinds which directly affects our reputation.
Let us be independent from fear of virtual reputation damage which may be caused due to unknown virtual friends.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2017), " Virtual friendship: what’s the reality in it for women”10th August, 2017, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Facebook way of saving “face” : The profile picture guard by Facebook

Long back in 2005 when I was newly introduced to a very popular social media “orkut”, I proudly showed off my profile with my own picture  which was clicked during a family wedding. Internet communication technology was new to India and we women were regularly being targeted because of the easy availability of our presence. This was largely due to lack of security in the social media as well as internet. We did not have two step verification for Gmail; Yahoo chat messenger, which was extremely popular during those days, almost made everyone’s personal information that were uploaded for the website, available to anyone who wanted access the user. It was during that period that I learnt about cloning of profiles which were made to harass individuals, especially women. The profiles may not be hacked, may neither be directly accessed by way of sending friends’ request; but the profile pictures may be downloaded and a new profile may be created with the available profile picture and profile information. Way back in 2006-7 I already had several women victims who contacted me for help and guidance. Almost all of them had common problem : harassment by way of creation of fake avatars. I have been part of the feminist movement which vehemently protested making women as ‘sex object’ on internet. Indeed women are made as ‘sex objects’ and they are regularly targeted by  misogynists, perverts and online traffickers who may selectively pick up women and girls by seeing their profiles, profile pictures and shadowing their online activities.
Let me go back to my own experiences where I received the first harassing comment (which was not stalking, neither resulted due to hacking) which was plainly nothing but ‘bullying’. My first profile picture in Orkut received a remark which mocked at my supposedly ‘over made-up   face’ and ‘blood red lipstick’. I knew this was just the beginning and if reciprocated, the bully may be extremely provoked to reply back. But this was not the first and last incident. I have received various negative comments, I have had my own period of being victim of a female stalker who monitored me and did send defamatory mails about me to my husband and again I had noticed several attempts to open Facebook accounts with my name and email ids. The later was detected and prevented by me because I never neglect the security messages sent by websites in my mails.
In my research I have seen that often the police and lawyers refuse to help the women victims and start the blame game. This is because they may not be aware of the mechanism to help and counsel the victims. In my opinion, websites must also be made responsible for third party victimization of women especially when the genuine reports of violation fail to move the websites.   However, the websites concerned, may constantly develop safety policy guidelines for users to make the users take self prevention mechanisms. I have been part of Facebook women safety program for quite some times now.  I continue to demand for more liability on the part of the websites especially for women and this time my concern was safety of profile pictures of women.  I was extremely happy to see the developments in the security and policies of Facebook which was introduced in India on 22nd June, 2017: ‘The profile picture guard’. Every woman must avail this opportunity to safeguard their profile picture since this is the most chosen target of all the images that may be uploaded by a user. The step by step guide to how to use this ‘guard’ is explained by Facebook team @ https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/06/giving-people-more-control-over-their-facebook-profile-picture/
However, I understand that it is not the women only, but children are also extremely vulnerable targets of sexual predators. Men are neither excluded. All users must use this facility and it may definitely help to reduce ‘image stealing’ for various malicious purposes including morphing, hacking and creation of fake avatars. But we need to understand that is not the ultimate answer to prevent revenge porn cases. While image of an individual may be saved because Facebook may detect the particular stolen image easily after receiving the report, there is a still remains a lacuna for other photographs which are in the personal albums. We must also note that the website will not suomotu take action for the cloned or stolen images. The victim must report the profile and the concerned profile picture along with the “shielded picture” as evidence.

Its nonetheless a big step in the history of cyber security for women and I congratulate Facebook for taking this initiative. But again, ……… accidents do happen and we need to be stronger to recover.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2017), "The Facebook way of saving “face” : The profile picture guard by Facebook”  23rd June, 2017, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cyber ransom attack: why lawyers and courts should worry more

When I was a student of undergraduate Law college, we were never sent for internship by colleges, to be more specific, the traditional university –colleges, whose duty was limited to hold classes, yearly(and not semester) examinations and give us the students the degree certificates. Children of lawyers and judges had a smooth path to the courts and to the practice through their parents. Many of us whose parents were not lawyers, used to hang out with these friends to get reference to join other law-firms or lawyers. We juniors had to do a lot of paper work and physical work to retain our jobs: we had to take notes from our seniors, their clients, make files to put the papers in proper sequences, make noted from the books for helping the seniors for next day’s arguments and sit with the stenographer –cum-computer operator to help him understand our illegible handwritings to make notices, petitions, affidavits etc. Most of the times, these computer operators had their own files saved for specific formats. We had to narrate him/her the names of the parties, the case numbers, and special points that may make the case very different from the format stored in there. 90% of these computers were not connected with internet. They were used for file storing only. I doubt way back in 1999-2001 how many government offices had computers used for anything other than file storing. It was mainly for this that the earlier version of our Information Technology Act,2000 did not have specific provisions damaging computer network system or hacking or unauthorised access to the computer through spreading malware etc. This is evident from the modern version of S.43 of the Information Technology Act (which was amended vide Information technology Amendment Act, 2008), which speaks about penalties and compensations for damage to computer, computer system etc. However, these “file storing” computers were prone to get virus attacks by external devices including floppies. We also did have some few personal computers lawyer’s offices which were connected with internet to receive mails, mainly instructions from overseas clients or clients staying in outstation. But these were considered as “luxury” and these lawyers were considered as that special group of lawyers who were “cyber savvy” not because they could produce electronic evidences because at that time mails/messages/ call logs were hardly recognised as proper evidences even though we had the amendment –wave touching the traditional evidence Act as well; but because they could go back to their chambers and see instant communications/instructions  from their clients and were able to bring back some thing called “printed  emails” not as an evidence, but as a reference-note. Quite at this time 9/11 happened in the US and everyone including we the lawyers also suddenly became alert about cyber security. But still, we got to see heavily protected lawyer’s bureaus and desks which contained most confidential data about their clients. It was not the soft copies, but the papers and in some cases, some physical objects like the knife or a piece of cloth etc which used to attract our attention as “sensitive” “confidential” materials which may turn the lives of the clients as well as ours if we assist our seniors in protecting these as best evidences.  With change of time, almost all lawyers became cyber savvy in this way or that especially because we started storing the confidential data of the clients in soft copies. Now, let us understand what is meant by sensitive information which may be considered as part of confidential data. S.3 of the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 defined sensitive personal data as 
 (i) password;
(ii) financial information such as Bank account or credit card or debit card or
other payment instrument details ;
(iii) physical, physiological and mental health condition;
(iv) sexual orientation;
(v) medical records and history;
(vi) Biometric information;
(vii) any detail relating to the above clauses as provided to body corporate for
providing service; and
(viii) any of the information received under above clauses by body corporate for
processing, stored or processed under lawful contract or otherwise.
But importantly, this definition also includes a third party, i.e., the “body corporate” for providing services. Now, let us check the definition of body corporates which is defined under S.43A of  the Information technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008). It says in explanation (i) "body corporate" means any company and includes a firm, sole proprietorship or other association of individuals engaged in commercial or professional activities. Very broad interpretation of this may include lawyers as well who may provide professional counselling. 
But without going into the examination of whether lawyers may held responsible as body corporates in the straight sense, I would like to emphasise on the point that lawyers also collect confidential data and they are at risk of  security infringement too. In my recently published writeup “the ransom attack that may make the women cry” published in the WION news @ http://www.wionews.com/south-asia/the-ransom-attack-that-may-make-the-women-cry-15726 I mentioned that every data saver including lawyers may also be at risk for any sort of malware attack. As such, when lawyers store confidential including sensitive data about clients, they must be ethically bound to protect it against any such cyber attack as well. 
Now, we may also need to shift our attention to the courts as store house of data as well.  Presently, courts have widened options for filing of cases or getting access to the judgements or orders by creating court websites which may not only work as a store house of information for millions of justice seekers, but also an information house of millions of lawyers, law students as well as researchers. Unlike lawyers, who may maintain strict confidentiality about the data /information provided by their clients to them for litigation purposes, we often get to see information being exposed in the court websites, especially in cases of judgements. The recent understanding of the courts have however made it mandatory to keep the party’s name confidential when the case is about child sexual abuse or victimisation of women. But still then, the courts play major role in storing confidential data about the litigants, which if exposed, may make the lives and reputation of justice seekers at stake. 
Surprisingly, the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008) has not emphasised on this issue separately. The chapters including chapter IX which speaks about penalty, compensation and damage to the computer, computer system, network etc, liability to protect the data penality for failure of the same by the body corporate etc, power to adjudicate etc, and chapter XI which speaks about the offences  speaks about liability of the data string houses, individual perpetrators and government stakeholders to intercept etc, but does not specifically mention about categories of service sectors and their liabilities. 
While it has been upheld that lawyers will come under the scope of Consumer protection Act unlike doctors or health sector stake holders like the hospitals or clinics, we must understand that by saying this, we can not escape our moral duties to protect the clients or litigant’s vital information which may be stored with lawyers or digital store houses of the courts. Infact as I mentioned in the write-up mentioned above, each of these sectors including lawyers and courts may be attacked by cyber perpetrators who are now playing a crucial role in “hacxtortion : hacking and extortion” (as was coined by me in the above writeup) of money for giving back the encrypted files. We have already seen that National Health services in the United Kingdom had been badly affected by this ransom malware. It is high time that lawyers, law firms and courts must audit their cyber securities to save the valuable data and take preventive steps against such ransom attack.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How ‘yellow journalism’ and internet is failing the women victims of online harassment and revenge porn

Almost a month and half back the whole south India woke up to a rather “juicy news” of “Bhavana” molestation case. She is not “Nirbhaya.” Her name was not given by the any legislator or judge or executive to protect her identity. Bhavana is a Malayalam female cine-star whose real name can be found in Wikipedia and numerous film magazines. She was apparently molested in a moving car by some including her former drivers. As the news report suggests, the perpetrators also took ‘objectionable’ photos of her while the incidence was going on. The news surfaced exactly when I was enjoying the sweet success of publishing my latest article “Celebrities and cyber crimes:an analysis of the victimisation of female film stars on internet” published in Temida: Journal on victimization, human rights and gender Volume 19 • Issue 3-4• 2016 .
We the movie fans often understand that actors or actresses may themselves attract negative publicity by voluntarily getting into troubles or playing the victim card. But in some cases this may not be true. Women actors may face numerous problems, harassment and threats in real life as well as virtually. One of such problem is facing voyeurism and revenge porn almost on daily basis. Some actors turn numb to such harassment as they take these as (negative) part of  their work. Some may reach out to police to show genuine concern. In Bhavana’s case, a minute analysis would show that she was not only physically violated, but also she became a victim of ‘revenge porn’, a term that our laws still do not recognise and tries to cover it up by numerous legal provisions which may not provide  the actual answer. I call it ‘revenge porn’ because once such ‘objectionable’ pictures were taken; it would not take more time to get it  circulated through WhatsApp. These contents may then land in various ports including to the secret sellers of porn clippings and obviously to the XXX rated sites. No one, not even the police may do anything to prevent secondary victimisation of the victim in such cases.
What concerns me more  is publication of her name. S.228-A of the Indian Penal Code prohibits publishing, printing etc  of the name and information of the victim/s who may have been victim of rape or sexual molestation. This protection is brought in to protect the privacy of the victim and more so, to encourage women victims of sexual violence to come up for reporting of crimes without the fear of ‘recognition’ and resultant possible social exclusion. But this provision also has a loose noose : when the victim herself allows to publish her name or identity, this provision will cease to help the victim. We don’t know whether Bhavana herself permitted the reporters to use her name and photograph but I can definitely understand that this has again created a bad example of ‘no identity protection’. Common people who may not be expected to know the pigeon holes of law, would understand a completely different story: reporting would bring media highlight which will destroy the physical and mental   privacy of the victim and her family. But this does not mean that I am ignoring the provisions of S.228-A, IPC. Women victims must also be made aware of this twist of law relating to identity protection. We may expect good and bad results of this: the provision may be misused, women may be able to take a rational decision.

Let us, the civil citizens take a preventive decision to not to spread any offensive videos/still images of women actors even if it may surface as apparently (ugly, unethical movie promo) genuine. Let us respect all women as equal irrespective of their job.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2017), " How ‘yellow journalism’ and internet is failing the women victims of online harassment and revenge porn”  1st April, 2017, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Smart cities may not always be Safe cities: Recalling Bangalore incidence


On December 20, 2016 I was attending a round table conference  on Smart City, Safe City in Delhi. After the Delhi gang rape case in 2012, every one addressed Delhi as an unsafe city. New apps emerged which would help women in distress to send SOS to their relatives and friends and alert the police. The police force of all metro cities also vowed to ensure safety for women in public places. Not much success though! There were several incidences of rape including gang rape which again and again made us realised that there is a difference between promising and doing. What disturbed me more was sudden increase of rape videos on internet. Rapists and their aides physically violate women and capture the moments to enjoy it later! Or should I say to earn unethical profits out of this? Yes! They earn a good fortune by distributing such videos to various ‘ports’ from where such videos float to many other ports, devices and jurisdictions. I would not have believed that local petty shops earn revenue by selling such videos to young adults and matured teens until one day I came across a news report on this. Presently it is not only the violent rape videos or voyeur honeymoon videos alone which is being consumed by porn addicts; the list has included videos on public place molestation and  kissing and fondling of young lovers at dark places. The Bangalore molestation incident on the 31st December 2016 night  is also floating in the internet now. Indeed, it has been seen not only by those who wanted to know the reality, but also by porn addicts because this is nothing but a ‘sex video’ or ‘sex clip’ for many. The images show forcefully touching, fondling and trying to kiss women.
Question is who clicks these? Who disseminates these? While I do not deny that many people in the crowd who would have noticed these incidences may have taken pictures of such molestation because we severely lack a proper public place photographing law; I must say these molestation videos have become viral because of the poor surveillance on the work of the surveillance camera as well. On the one hand we thank the media to bring this news in the forefront. But on the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about extreme violation of privacy. What for the surveillance cameras are installed in public places? It is because the police (the so-called 24 hour help lines) could be made aware then and there of what is happening and how it is happening in the public places. Shockingly enough the police took charge after the media highlighted the issue. What more can be gathered from this is, the person who may be monitoring the images captured by the surveillance cameras may wanted to alert the media first and not the police. May be the person in charge would have alerted both the stakeholders, but the failure of the police to take charge of the issue first has not only  violated the right of the victims to speedy justice, but has also revealed a crude joke: privacy of the  sexual assault victims can neither be guaranteed.
          28th January is celebrated as Data Protection day in many countries including India. On this day 27 years ago Council of Europe opened the Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data for signature by the State parties. India is yet to adopt this convention. India neither has any focused Privacy protection law, even though the provisions relating to protection of privacy are scattered in different legislation.  Ironically the concept of smart city has motivated the creation if several apps and digital policing. But the Bangalore incident again proved that nothing really works ‘smartly’ until stricter implementations of the traditional laws are made.
Stay safe, act safe.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2017), " Smart cities may not always be Safe cities: Recalling Bangalore incidence”  29th january, 2017, published in http://cybervictims.blogspot.in/