In this era of globalization, technology plays a key role. It is very clear that the future is going to be governed by electronic gadgets. In the words of Jose.M.R Delgado, “Can you avoid knowledge? You can’t! Can you avoid technology? You can’t!”.
So when something is so imperative and unavoidable it does bring with itself threats, and more specifically, the threat of being misused.
It’s worth mentioning that in recent years not only the world, but also the Indian constitution has recognised privacy as a right. Though latent, but in a number of judgments it has been dubbed as a fundamental right.
For example, in the infamous Puttaswamy case which challenged the validity of Aadhar act on the grounds that it violates the Right to Privacy. Similarly, US’s justice Louis Brandeins called it “the right to be left alone”. It is very much evident that the Right to Privacy is intimately connected to the dignity of a person for it be discussed at length in various Parliaments and courtrooms. One crucial thing to be noted is that privacy in cyberspace is also a part of the Right to Privacy. And also the most flagrantly violated right.
Seeing this threat it was realised by the nations that this area needed protection and hence UNCITRAL 1996 was drafted. UNGA passed this resolution in 1997 to recognize electronic signature as a valid proof. Talking about the Indian context following the guidelines laid down by the UN, India enacted the Information Technology Act 2000 in order to provide legal recognition for transactions carried out by means of electronic data interchange. Also, amends were made to the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act 1872, The Bankers Books Act 1891. This enactment underwent amendment in 2008, with special focus on information security, defining cybercafe, etc.
Now when we are discussing the violation of privacy in cyberspace, penal provisions become necessary, to understand what violation of privacy is and what leads to it. An individual’s privacy may be invaded electronically in several ways.
First, the significant amount of personal information which is available in online databases. Second, the transactional Information collected as the individual participates in online activities that specifically identifies the individual. And third, by the computerized database which is maintained by governments and non-governmental entities.
Internet itself raises some unique privacy concerns. When we use social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, etc., vast amounts of our information are under surveillance and this data passes through different computer systems before reaching its destination. Furthermore, online activities can also be monitored by internet service providers (ISP) and by the websites that we visit.
Therefore, privacy can be breached at any stage of information transmission.
These threats to Privacy in cyberspace can come from varied sources ranging from personal computers, ISPs, websites to spyware. The information generated is at high risk of being accessed and misused. For example- Media or files deleted from a computer can be recovered hence it can be deleted but not destroyed. Our network system can be hacked and crucial info stolen by the cyber trespassers. Apart from that cookies that we save while surfing reveals our interests and sites visited similarly spyware which is a software that covertly gathers user’s information through the user’s internet connection for advertising purposes is of greater risk.
Once installed spyware monitors user activity on the internet and transmits that information to third parties. Spyware can also gather data like passwords, credit card details, etc.
Apart from privacy concerns the cyber world is also a place for crimes like phishing, stalking, pornography, espionage, etc. Hence we need a mechanism that is accommodative of all these issues and some stringent statutory laws. The recent committee on data protection led by justice B.N Srikrishna is a step towards realising these goals. But we need to bear one thing in mind that Privacy is a condition which is very easy to violate at the same time much more difficult to establish.
Hindu College, University of Delhi
Intern at Cyber Peace Foundation