In the last two posts, I have highlighted the call for early appointment of the Chair person of Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CyAT) which is vacant since July 2011 and the inadequacy of the NCRB system to recognize the extent of Cyber Crimes that occur in the country.
In this context, there is a need for a total revamp of the Cyber Judicial system in India for which I place some suggestions here. I hope the message will reach the right persons and necessary action will be initiated.
In particular action would be required from
- Mr Ravishankar Prasad who is the minister for DeITy and Law
- The Secretaries attached to department of IT, Law and Home affairs
- Chief Justice of India
- Chief Justices in the States and Union Territories
- Chief Ministers of different States
- IT and Law Secretaries in different States
- Heads of Police in different States
- Heads of Institutes of Law Education and Police Training all over India
- Members of the Media
My suggestions can be classified into following six heads.
- Awareness Building
- Crime Reporting
- Special Magistrate Courts
- Special Mediation Centers
1. Awareness Building
Whenever we discuss solutions related to Cyber Crimes and Cyber Security, “Creating Awareness” continues to top the discussion table and often ends with it. There is no doubt that “Creating Awareness” is necessary but we need to also address to whom should we create awareness and regarding what.
First level of awareness building is to the public that there is a law called ITA 2000/8 and if they have any issues, they can seek protection from law. But immediately they will ask, which Police Station should I reach out and which Court should I approach. Given the general reluctance of public to step into any Police Station, unless people feel that there would be a definite benefit they will not approach the Police. While there are many knowledgeable Police officers, there are more number of station level policemen who are not familiar with Cyber Crimes and are reluctant to accept any complaints.
There is therefore a need to create awareness amongst all the Police Stations. Despite some efforts there is still a lack of effort in ensuring that our police stations are equipped to accept a Cyber Crime complaint. Today we see a board in most Police stations about the number of complaints received under various types of crimes. I donot seem to have seen the list including any “Cyber Crimes”. In fact I would like to see “How many policemen including constables are there in the police station and how many of them have been trained to understand Cyber Crimes” as part of the information these police stations should display.
I have once suggested Bangalore police to have “Station level Awareness Exercise ” on Cyber Crimes so that every Constable is trained to understand Cyber Crime. Just as we conduct workshops in schools, workshops on Cyber crimes should be conducted in every police stations. Advanced courses can be conducted for SIs and investigating officers but base level awareness is required to every body.
Similarly, awareness need to be created with advocates, Public prosecutors, Magistrates and judges at all levels. CJIs need to monitor how may judicial officers are in the state and how many of them are proficient in Cyber Crimes. Judicial Academies need to work on a specific target in this regard so that 100% of magistrates and civil judges go through at least the base level workshop within the next one year.
An action plan for this can be developed and implemented by every State under the guidance of the Chief Justice of the State High Court.
Awareness also needs to be built for every IT Secretaries in India since they are “Adjudicators” and function like a Civil Judge in respect of all offences under ITA 2000 upto a loss of Rs 5 crores.
Lack of awareness at any level whether it is the victim, or the Police or the Lawyers or the Judiciary should not be a reason why Cyber Crimes donot get registered.
I am sure that budget is not a constraint since we can use an army of Law Professors from different Law Colleges to conduct such base level programs, if necessary by first conducting a “Training for Trainers”.
Naavi has conducted programs under the “Karnataka Cyber Law Awareness Movement “way back in 2005 to spread the Cyber Law Awareness in India and can still contribute to a new wave of such activity if some body in Karnataka or at the Central Government level is interested.
2. Crime Reporting
Assuming that awareness is built up at all levels, the next problem to be tackled is the means of reporting of a Cyber Crime incident. If we want to get the correct picture of the Cyber Crime scenario in the country, we need to break the reluctance to register Cyber Crime complaints at the police level. It is appreciated that if Complaints are registered but not resolved, some may interpret it as an inefficiency of the Police and hence Police are reluctant to register a complaint which they are not confident of resolving.
We therefore need an “Impersonal System of Crime Reporting” where the incident is reported online. Every incident reported should be numbered whether they are converted into a complaint or not. Police should establish a network of “Friends of Cyber Police” in different parts of the City who may be approached by the victims for guidance. These FOCPs can vet the complaint and load it onto the system on behalf of the victim.
The system should escalate the complaint to a suitable Police officer for conversion into a formal complaint and issue of an acknowledgement. The higher authorities in Police may take follow up action as may be required though the first task of recognition of Cyber Crime is achieved through this process.
Every incident may be technically considered as an “Attempt” to commit a crime and therefore can be recognized as a registerable Cyber Crime. Hence there should be no technical issue is mandatory registration of FIRs for all verified complaints.
This will help in the assessment of the resources that need to be committed to Cyber Crime mitigation in the long run.
Adjudication was a wonderful system which ITA 2000 suggested for resolution of civil claims for damages arising out of contravention of any provision of ITA 2000. It provided for quick resolution, and suo-moto powers to the adjudicators to take remedial action. In 2003 in view of the fact that the Judicial system was not prepared to take up the challenge of adjudicating on technology related issues, Government made all IT Secretaries of states as “Adjudicators” for the respective state. These officers were tech savvy and senior enough in the bureaucracy to conduct proceedings of adjudication as an “Enquiry” process. Appeals were available to the CyAT.
However over a period the Adjudicators have shown no enthusiasm to take up this responsibility both because they are otherwise engaged in the developmental activities as also because there is a conflict of interest since some of the cases involve business interests of IT companies. Additionally just as Judicial officers were lacking in technical knowledge, the IT Secretaries were also found to fumble with the legal knowledge when required. As a combination of all these factors, today the system of Adjudication is almost non existent.
There is therefore a need to review and revive this system. One way out is for the State Judiciary to train some of their Judicial officers in Cyber Crime related issues and set up a parallel team of Adjudication Empowered Judicial Officers. Once the IT ministry issues necessary notification, these officers can start taking up complaints.
Alternatively, every Adjudication set up which today consists of the IT Secretary can be made a two member bench with the Law Secretary of the State being the second person. This will provide the relief in terms of knowledge deficiency but may not solve the problem of lack of time for these state level senior officers. The team of trained judicial officers may therefore be a better solution to meet the requirements of Adjudication.
These Adjudicating officers should be mandated to use Video Conferencing wherever feasible so that the cost of adjudication is reduced.
Again a suitable framework for training and sustaining this system can be developed if the State High Court Chief Justice takes interest.
The issue of CyAT has been discussed earlier. Presently there is a set up in Delhi with a good infrastructure and also a technical member. If only a Chair person can be appointed, the system can restart its activities.
However there is a need for CyAT to sit in different States and use Video Conferencing so that victims need not travel to Delhi for their cases.
It should be mandated that the CyAT regularly sits in different State Capitals and conducts its proceedings and also set up at least one bench in South India to enable economical access to the public.
5. Special Magistrate Courts
While the Adjudication and CyAT takes care of the civil disputes, there is also a need to set up special magisterial courts in the States to handle Cyber Crime cases exclusively. This will speed up delivery of justice and also build expertise in specific Judges who can support the system at higher levels as days go by.
This is an action which again needs to be handled by the State High Court.
6.Special Mediation Centers
ITA 2000/8 provides for compounding of most offences including those which come under the category of criminal offences. Hence there is a scope for mediation and Conciliation both in the case of Civil and Criminal proceedings.
If therefore a good system of mediation can be developed, this will reduce the burden in the system of Adjudicators and Magistrates and help in the quicker delivery of Justice to victims.
There could be many other measures that may help in improving the Cyber Judicial systems but what is discussed above is a list of suggestions that can be considered.
It is to be remembered that an efficient Cyber Justice System is not only required for the success of the Digital India program but also is essential for India maintaining a good “Ease of Doing Business ” index on a global scale.
I hope the relevant authorities in the Government take necessary action in this regard and provide some relief to the public reeling under the onslaught of Cyber Crimes.