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New Delhi: Cybercrime grew 12 per cent in India last year to touch 49,708 cases, latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data show. Among states with at least 1,000 cases, Telangana (87 per cent) and Gujarat (64 per cent) saw the most severe rise. The northeastern state of Assam followed at third, with 58 per cent growth.

In terms of the crime rate, or cases relative to every 1 lakh people, Assam again stood at third, with a rate of 10.1 (one case per 10,000 people). This was behind Karnataka (16.2) and Telangana (13.4).

But though Assam’s numbers weren’t the worst — ranked third on both case growth and crime rate lists — the trends in the nature of its cybercrimes stood out.

Unlike the rest of the country, where cybercrimes were primarily committed with the motive of fraud, Assam’s cybercriminals held ‘revenge’ as the primary motive. Most of the cases pertained to leaking of intimate pictures online and sexual exploitation.

A break-up of Assam’s 3,530 cybercrime cases showed that revenge, porn and extortion formed the motive for around 45 per cent of the total number of such cases. This figure stood at 14.3 per cent for the country.

Of the total cybercrimes committed in the state, about 18.5 per cent (654) were committed with the motive of personal revenge. Such cases formed 45 per cent of India’s overall tally of cybercrimes (1,463) committed.

Five per cent cases in the state were committed with the motive of fraud. The India figure was at 61 per cent — an indication of how much Assam deviated from the national trends.

Overall, Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number (11,097) of cybercrime cases, followed by Karnataka (10,741), Telangana (5,024) and Maharashtra (3,350).


Also read: Cases double under contentious Essential Commodities Act in 2020. Police point to pandemic


What officers say on Assam’s deviation

According to local reports, cases of revenge porn — where the perpetrator shares intimate images of the victim, taken while they were in a relationship, without notice — have grown significantly in the last few years.

Various accounts of women have been documented in the state, where their explicit photos and videos were shared online. The number has been on a rise, said a Times of India’s Guwahati bureau report.

Speaking on the issue, Assam Women Commission Chairperson Chikimiki Talukdar said, “Revenge — love affairs gone wrong — is one of the predominant motives. This leads to online bullying, and sexual exploitation. Moreover, the judicial system here is extremely slow. There are hardly fast-track trials here.”

The state police told ThePrint that it takes swift action, but gathering information from social media companies is a tough task.

“The complainant’s statement is recorded and a team is assigned to collect evidence. Social media is scanned but a major hiccup in the entire process is that these big companies — like Facebook and Instagram — more often refuse to share information on people under question. They don’t have servers here which delays the investigation in such cases,” a senior Assam Police officer told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.

“In some cases, we are asked to take the legal route, approach them through the MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty), which is again a long and tedious process,” the officer added.

Talukdar believes that affordable internet in the wrong hands has led to rise in online “stalking”, which could be the reason why Assam’s statistics look so different from others.

“Stalking has increased manifold, there are hardly any regulations in place on social media websites and those in place, there is extreme lack of awareness,” she said.


Also read: 2020 saw 190% rise in counterfeit notes seized, ‘courtesy Malda-based syndicates’


‘Obscene’ state of affairs

A closer look at the cybercrime statistics reveals that nearly a third of the cybercrimes in Assam were recorded under Section 67 of the Information and Technology Act 2000.

According to this section, publishing or transmitting obscene and sexually explicit content in an online form could attract imprisonment up to three years or/and Rs 5 lakh on first conviction, and could be extended to five years or/and Rs 10 lakh on second conviction.

For instance, in July last year, a mathematics teacher at Assam’s Dibrugarh University was arrested for filming and broadcasting a porn video.

Of the total cybercrimes committed in India, hardly 12.5 per cent were recorded under this Act. Odisha (27.1 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (19.1 per cent) and Meghalaya (18.3 per cent) were the other top states to have filed similar cases under the IT Act.

Low charge sheet rates

While states such as Karnataka and Telangana recorded the highest cybercrime rate, they also have sophisticated machinery available to deal with such cases. Assam doesn’t.

Assam Police failed to gather adequate evidence to file a charge sheet against the accused in more than 80 per cent of the cases it disposed of in 2020, NCRB data showed.

The charge sheet rate, as mentioned in the NCRB report, charts the proportion of charge sheets filed to the total number of cases disposed of in a year. It is a measure of the performance of the police force.

In 2020, Assam disposed of about 1,983 cyber crime cases. Out of this, a charge sheet was filed only in 385 cases, which means that the police could gather adequate evidence to charge sheet the accused in only 19.4 per cent of the disposed cases. In about 1,103 cases (55 per cent), the police couldn’t find any evidence.

“In most cybercrime cases, the case is already weak due to lack of evidence. In some cases, there is hardly any substance in the FIR lodged, so police end up filing a final report, which is why the conviction rate is low,” said a second senior Assam Police officer who didn’t wish to be named.

Having a sophisticated infrastructure plays a role in a state’s handling of cybercrime cases.

According to Sandeep Patil, Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime, Bengaluru City Police, Karnataka has deployed dedicated police stations for recording cybercrimes, which is why the reporting of such cases is high.

“In our state, both infrastructural and institutional factors are at work. We have increased the number of police stations, trained our manpower to deal with the investigation of cybercrimes and have deployed digital forensic tools to tackle cybercrimes,” he told ThePrint. 

Despite a high crime rate, Karnataka had a charge sheet rate of about 72 per cent.

A third police officer in Assam told ThePrint that lack of infrastructure “makes it extremely difficult to track down the criminals who hide behind a computer or mobile screen and commit such crimes”.

“In some cases, even the complainant refuses to cooperate after a while in the case. The investigation falls into a limbo due to lack of technical evidence,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.

However, Assam’s high cybercrime trajectory has caught the attention of the government, a senior CID officer told ThePrint.

“Things have become better over the years. We have launched a cybercrime helpline number this year where people can call for cybercrime complaints. Moreover, a cyber forensics training centre and lab has also been opened here at the CID headquarters and police stations will be handed out first responders cyber forensics kit,” said the officer who didn’t wish to be named.


Also read: Assam, Manipur, UP record highest no. of cases of sedition & under UAPA, NCRB data shows


 

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