In this Digital Age, data and information are valuable resources to every person. An identity is the most natural part of a person. Theft of data and identity through hacking and other digital means are the most prevalent cyber crimes. Identity theft is a sub-set of Data Theft. There are many situations when identity of a person (victim) is controlled by another person without their consent or even their knowledge. When someone wrongfully obtains and illegally exploits the data of any person by fraud and deception for personal economic use at the expense of others, this constitutes a cyber crime.
Data is the creation of personal knowledge alongwith the prudence of a person, which together forms Information, and a computer program is a collection of such data can be interpreted as Instructions. The trade secret, technical know – how, designs, music, films, books, personal data including usernames, credit cards numbers, digital or electronic signature, email and passwords are all tangible form of intellectual property that drives the economy of Information. A lot of capital, time and efforts go into the creation and compilation of such information. Unlike the finger impression of a person, which is unique and cannot be imitated by someone for any personal use; the personal information of a person however unique and protected can be abused when in the hands of someone with mens rea who intends to commit actus reus. Lately a social security number, a bank account or any credit/debit card number, a telephone calling number and other valuable assets can be easily exploited with the simplest digital equipments. Many unauthorized persons have acquired funds out of several financial bank accounts by illegally obtaining the identity and running vast debts while using the name of the victim. An identity is an inherent part of every person. The fraudulent use of an identity by another person or entity for an unlawful economic gain is known as Identity Theft.
The Indian Law recognizes an identity of a person as a vital part of their personal data, thus data theft is a sub-set of an identity theft. Information theft is a serious crime and the core element for such theft is Impersonation. Identity theft as a crime have existed independent of the internet and computer system but with the advent of the technology, advance computer system including smart mobile phones have eased the possibility of cyber theft with the use of the internet. Theft of any information by computers under any modus operandi dependent or independent of the internet is punishable under The Information Technology Act, 2000.
The Information Technology Act, 2000 defines “Data” as a representation of information, knowledge, facts, concepts or instructions which have been prepared or have been prepared in a formalized manner, and is intended to be processed, is being processed or has been processed in a computer system or computer network, and may be in any form (including computer printouts, magnetic or optical storage media, punched cards, punched tapes) or stored internally in the memory of the computer.
All cyber fraud and digital scams including hacking, phishing constitute as Data Crimes. When any information or intellectual property is encapsulated in any system for instance in a floppy disc, compact disc or any external or internal drive of such system, they altogether form a moveable property and when such moveable property is dishonestly moved without the consent of the person in possession or acquire either the data or the system by vexatious means shall constitute such data related crimes.
Philip Anthony Hammond, a British Conservative Politician righteously quotes that the cyber weapons provide the tantalizing possibility of being able to cripple the enemy without inflicting lasting damage…
Previously, the Laws of India did not address data theft separately. The offences were read and punished under The Indian Penal Code, 1860. The offences were read as Cheating u/s 415 IPC, Cheating by Personation u/s 416 IPC, Breach of Trust u/s 378 IPC. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 did not recognize punishment for stealing of online data and information as theft u/s 375. The cyber criminals are not in any way similar to the habitual criminals. The offences of a cyber crime were not appropriately addressed, thus criminals could be not be punished accordingly and the victims were deprived of the Due Process.
In 2008, an Amendment was introduced to The Information Technology Act, 2000 and covered the terms data theft, data breach, identity theft, identity fraud, phishing, hacking and also cheating by personation. The punishments for these offences were introduced under the Section 66. Thus, the theft of any information intimately associated with the identity of a person is a punishable offence.
Identity theft can be tackled at three levels:
The primary level includes self-help as well as precautionary measure by the person. The secondary level includes protection by the private party architecture. This also includes safety solutions in cloud computing. The tertiary level includes efforts in the public law enforcement. Each day the Laws of India are developing judiciously in response to identity theft. Thefts of digital data and identity have the potential to annihilate the online economy.
In 2009, the State of Maharashtra incepted The First Cyber Police Station in Mumbai – Bandra Kurla Complex. The Cyber Police Station or the E – Police Station is the third police station in the country after Bangalore and Hyderabad. The Mumbai Police have submitted a detailed plan to the present Government of Maharashtra - Shri. Davendra Fadnavis. The present Government of Maharashtra has promised the Mumbai Police Rs. 50 Crores towards the establishment of the project and plan. The Maharashtra Government has started equipping themselves to handle cyber crimes. The Cyber Crime police Stations will have the power to register the First Information Report (FIR) in such cases and take appropriate legal action accordingly. Earlier the Information Technology Act, 2000 stated that only an Additional Commissioner of Police or an Officer of a higher rank could investigate cyber crimes but this is not the case anymore and each day the personnel of Mumbai Police are being trained for registering cyber crimes under the relevant laws. This will eliminate the need for the victims of cyber crime to travel all the way to the Cyber Police Station. Any cyber case registered at any Police Station must be reverted and registered to the Cyber Police Station and conduct the investigation accordingly for speedy disposal of the matter. The Cyber Police Station in Mumbai – Bandra Kurla Complex is equipped with modern technology and advanced software. The Laws of India comprehends that many person communicate, interact and even romance on the Internet without coming face – to – face with the another person. All the information of data and identity are through user-names of the person may be also assigned with digital signatures. The unit of cyber police will also tackle financial terrorism, which involves money laundering, or hawala and online flesh trade. This will lead to immediate investigations and expedient trials.
From the Lawyer’s Desk
In India, data theft is a cognizable offence which implies the police can arrest the suspected person without a warrant and detain for 24 hours till a bail is granted by the concerned Police Station or the Court depending on the crime.
According to The Information Technology Act, 2000, the crime of Data Theft is defined under Section 43(b) - if any person without permission of the owner or any other person without the permission of the owner or any other person who is in charge of a computer, computer system of computer network, downloads, copies or extracts any data, computer database or information from such computer, computer system or computer network.
Please be advised, if a person plans to copy data or download information from the computer systems or network on an internal or external memory storage device belonging to their friends, clients, colleagues, teachers or employers without the lawful consent can put such a person serve a punishment upto Three Years.
In this Digital Age, Internet Etiquette must be introduced as a syllabus to educate the masses and the younger upcoming generations of India.