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Shielding Digital Dignity: Combating Cyber Voyeurism and ProtectingWomen’s Privacy in the Digital Age - An Indian Perspective

Yushmita Sidar, Hidyatullah National Law University, Raipur


Introduction

“Voyeurism is a ridiculous type of enjoyment for men whereas it causes mental trauma to women. Such acts infringe

the Right to privacy of women and she feels unsafe in the places which are generally meant to be safe for women.”

-Justice Susheel Bala Dadar, in State v. Shailesh 1 (2019)


Throughout history, women have been victims of sexual assaults. Advancements in science and technology have led to cyber voyeurism, a new form of sex crime that has gained popularity on the internet. The digital age has brought a new level of connectedness and information exchange. As of 2022, 69% of the world's population, or 4.9 billion people, are engaged on the Internet. According to current trends, the number of Internet users is increasing at a 4% yearly pace, which means that around 196 million new individuals join the Internet each year. It is a blessing on one side, but a curse on the other. However, this has led to a terrible inclination known as cyber voyeurism. This act of invading another person's privacy, particularly that of a woman, for sexual enjoyment endangers her safety and well-being. “Voyeurism and cyberspace have become more intertwined in India and throughout the world as the use of technology and the internet grows. Often, this has resulted in a violation of privacy laws, and in other cases, criminal prosecution.” 

Traditionally, voyeurism entailed spying on individuals in private locations, such as through window or keyhole. According to the NCRB's most recent statistics, there were 1336 occurrences of voyeurism in 2019, and despite the lockdown during the corona pandemic in 2020, there was only a 4% decrease, with 1,260 cases listed. Maharashtra reported the most instances at 201, followed by Andhra Pradesh at 124, and among cities, Mumbai had the most at 46, followed by Delhi with 29. 

However, technology has altered the crime. Voyeurs now employ concealed cameras and mobile devices to capture individuals in restrooms, locker rooms, and even bedrooms. This increases the likelihood of these intimate photographs and films being released online, creating significant emotional suffering for the victims.

This blog will investigate the difficulties surrounding cyber voyeurism in India, analyze the relationship between privacy and voyeurism, assess relevant legal frameworks and their ramifications, and provide solutions to combat this threat.


Understanding Cyber Voyeurism 

Cyber voyeurism is the unauthorized capturing, dissemination, or broadcast of intimate visual photographs or films of another person, usually without their knowledge or agreement. This might include discreetly photographing someone in a private place (bathroom, changing room), releasing private images or videos without permission, or hacking into someone's device to gain private information. According to studies, over 42% of college students without a criminal record have committed voyeuristic activities. A prominent South-Indian actress from Kerala was kidnapped and assaulted by her former driver, who planned to blackmail her by collecting filthy photographs. A Krishnanagar court recently convicted a 24-year-old man who was the headmaster of a school-cum-hostel facility under various provisions of the POCSO for purportedly filming at least two inmates naked in the hostel bathroom by utilizing hidden cameras and then physically assaulting them by blackmailing them with the footage. The culprit was sentenced to 20 years in jail and a 2 lakh fine. Cyber voyeurism may have a more severe impact on victims than other crimes against women. While it may not cause bodily harm, it can nonetheless cause emotional and mental distress for the sufferer.


Privacy and Voyeurism: An intertwined issue

Privacy, recognized as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in the decision of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, enables people to control information about themselves. Voyeurism, on the other hand, clearly violates this right. It deprives women of their sense of security and autonomy over their bodies. The psychological consequences of such infractions can be catastrophic, including feelings of shame, humiliation, and even social exclusion. R v. Jarvis is an important case that addresses the topic of voyeurism and privacy. In this case, a high school instructor named Ryan Jarvis utilized a camera pen to discreetly capture films of his pupils' breasts and bodies for sexual motives. The case triggered a larger discussion about monitoring and privacy in both public and private places, emphasizing the necessity of reasonable privacy expectations. The Canadian Supreme Court's ruling in this case has the potential to influence not just criminal law, but also larger social notions of privacy in public places, particularly in an era of increased monitoring technology.

A case study on voyeurism from a forensic psychology viewpoint emphasizes the relevance of comprehending voyeurs' behavior and motives. This book gives a case study of a young man who engaged in a variety of voyeuristic behaviors, offering insights on the assessment, formulation, and treatment of voyeurism. This approach emphasizes the need to have a thorough understanding of voyeurism in order to properly handle the problem and preserve individuals' privacy. The intersection of privacy and voyeurism highlights concerns about the restrictions of present legislation and the necessity for suitable remedies in the penal code. The covert nature of voyeurism frequently results in underreporting, making it difficult to estimate the real scope of the problem and design effective responses.


Indian Laws Concerning Voyeurism

IPC

Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code addresses voyeurism. According to this provision, any male who does voyeuristic activities faces imprisonment for one to three years on the first conviction and three to seven years on successive convictions, as well as a fine. The word "private act" refers to behaviors in locations where isolation is anticipated, such as exposing one's genitals, rear, or breasts, as well as acts that are not normally performed in public. In Balabathula Shiva Kumar v. State of Telangana, the Telangana High Court clarified that under Section 354 C, "perpetrator" does not include a person with whom the victim has a consensual sexual relationship and has consented to the taking of images unless such images are disseminated without her consent.


IT Act

Section 66E of the IT Act prohibits the capture, publishing, or transfer of a photograph of a person's private part without their agreement and in circumstances that violate that person's privacy. Conviction under this clause carries a sentence of up to three years in jail and a fine. In the case of Shivam Sharma vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh, the Madhya Pradesh High Court ruled that it is an offense under Section 354-C of the IPC if the victim consents to the taking of photos but not to their dissemination to third parties, and the images are nonetheless disseminated.

Section 67 and 67A provide punishment for posting or disseminating obscene information in electronic format. “Whoever intends to publish or transmit lascivious material in electronic form that has the potential to corrupt or deprave the minds of those who are likely to hear, see, and read such material shall be punished with a term of three years and a fine of up to rupees five lakh, or a term of five years and a fine of up to rupees ten lakh if convicted again.”

In the case of Shivprasad Sajjan vs. State, a Karnataka court found its initial conviction under Section 67 of the Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000. The petitioner was a software engineer who used to send obscene emails and images of a victim from a cyber café. The accused was an engineer who changed his career to advocate so that he could defend himself in court. After being found guilty, the criminal Shivprasad Sajjan was sentenced to two years in jail and a 25,000 fine.


Challenges in Combating Cyber Voyeurism in India

Societal & Cultural Norms: Social norms might be a hurdle in eradicating cyber voyeurism in India owing to a lack of knowledge and comprehension of the problem. Societal customs and cultural expectations about gender roles and sexuality can further complicate efforts to fight cyber voyeurism. In India, humility and privacy are highly valued, especially among women. Victims of cyber voyeurism may be reluctant to speak out and report events because they are ashamed or embarrassed. Furthermore, cultural norms on male sexuality and entitlement might contribute to the normalization of voyeuristic behavior, making it harder to address the problem effectively.

Technological Advancements: The fast advancement of technology has made it simpler for criminals to perform voyeuristic crimes without being physically present, which is generally not prohibited. The ease of access to technology has resulted in an upsurge in cyber sex crimes, including cyber voyeurism. In the fight against cyber voyeurism, intermediaries like social media platforms and websites play an important role. Intermediaries do not always reply to user complaints, especially those that are not in English. To guarantee that complaints are addressed and voyeuristic content is removed off the internet, intermediaries must follow strict criteria.

Lagging Legal Framework: Despite the growing frequency of cybercrimes such as voyeurism, existing legal measures may be insufficiently comprehensive or up-to-date to adequately combat these new types of illegal behavior. The lack of explicit legislation targeting cyber voyeurism can create loopholes for perpetrators to exploit, making it difficult to punish offenders and sufficiently safeguard victims. The Information Technology Act of 2000 is a significant piece of legislation addressing cybercrime; however it may not properly cover all types of cyber voyeurism. The lack of gender-neutral legislation and measures that recognize males as victims of crimes such as voyeurism might impede the judicial system's capacity to treat these offences effectively. Furthermore, the absence of explicit attention for topics such as altered photos or deep fakes complicates the legal environment governing cyber voyeurism.


Measures to Combat Cyber Voyeurism

Strengthening Existing Laws

  • Including a precise definition of cyber voyeurism in the IT Act or additional laws.

  • Introduce harsher punishments for violators. 

  • Ensure that internet platforms have explicit procedures for removing or blocking voyeuristic content.

  • Consider photo shopped or modified photographs of the victims.

The new criminal actions make it a gender-neutral crime, which is a step in the right direction. 

Empowering Women

  • Increase digital literacy efforts to educate women about internet safety. 

  • Encourage the reporting of cyber voyeurism instances, and provide specific victim support mechanisms.

Counseling

  • Victims frequently face embarrassment and shame, which can lead to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues. In such circumstances, victims must be provided appropriate medical advice and assistance.

Role of Civil Societies

  • Civil society organizations may play an important role in raising awareness, pushing for legislative changes, and assisting victims.

Conclusion

To summaries, cyber voyeurism and the invasion of women's privacy in the digital era are significant concerns that demand immediate attention and action. The Indian legal structure has attempted to address these problems with measures such as Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 66E, 67, and 67A of the IT Act. However, there are also hurdles to effectively addressing cyber voyeurism, such as greater enforcement and more complete legislation that takes into account the intricacies of digital technology. 

To preserve women's privacy and prevent cyber voyeurism, it is critical to increase awareness about the problem and its implications, educate people on the value of permission and privacy, and encourage responsible digital behavior. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies must have the means and expertise to successfully investigate and prosecute cyber voyeurism crimes. 

The interplay between cyber voyeurism and privacy emphasizes the importance of taking a comprehensive strategy to tackle these challenges, such as developing technical solutions that prioritize user privacy and security and promoting a culture of respect and permission in the digital world.




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