A calamity waiting to happen

A calamity waiting to happen

During the last fortnight cybercrimes leading to death of victims have been in focus. While the death by suicide of the Salem girl was typical of the instances of cyber stalking, cyber bullying, and defamation, another notable incident which occurred in Bengaluru involved a housewife who fell prey to an online fraud of the Nigerian type.

In this tragic incident, a 44-year-old wife of a senior IT professional and mother of two children fell prey to a "Lottery Fraud", which conned the woman into believing that she had won a prize of Rs 45 lakhs. Believing it to be true, the woman paid Rs11 lakhs between June 6 and 13 to the fraudster without the knowledge of her husband. She also flew to Delhi to receive the prize money and return empty handed.

Though family members assured her that a police complaint can be filed, the woman, overcome by the guilt, committed suicide, thereby plunging the family and her two children into another bigger tragedy.

In India, we hardly take notice of cyber frauds. Deaths due to cyber fraud arise purely because of criminal activities of individuals who do not mind killing somebody else to make their own living. It should be realised that in every such fraud the fraud money would be collected through one of our banks where the fraudster would have opened an account sometimes with false identity. Frauds of this nature cannot take place if bankers are vigilant and do not act as abettors to the fraud.

In the instant case referred to above, it has been reported that the police have booked a case of abetment under Section 306 and 420 against the unknown fraudster. But it is not known and it is unlikely that the erring banks have also been identified as co-accused for abetting the fraud.

The Cyber law in India is clear that when an offence that falls under Information Technology Act 2000/8 (ITA 2008) occurs and some body has assisted and abetted in the crime by directly or indirectly facilitating the crime by their own negligence, they shall be held guilty to the same extent that the person who actually committed the offence.

This principle was first judicially validated in the S Umashankar Vs ICICI Bank in a historic judgment of the adjudicator of Tamil Nadu and has been vindicated in several other decisions of adjudicators in Tamil Nadu, Mumbai, and Chattisgarh.

Karnataka is an exception where the previous adjudicator's decision has been protecting the banks against such liability for contributory negligence. Hence, as per the prevailing judicial precedence in Karnataka, it would not be easy for the local police to book the bankers involved in the instant case for abetment though it may not be impossible.

However, all over India outside Karnataka, there is a buzz around the concept of "Digital India". With more and more people conducting financial transactions over the Internet, the stakes are increasing every day. Prudence indicates that this would also result in parallel growth of financial frauds.

Therefore, if the government does not take measures to protect its citizens from the risks of cybercrime by all available means, disaster is lurking around the corner. It is possible that in one single swoop, hackers could hack into the Pradhan Mantri Jandhan Yojana scheme and wipe out the wealth of millions of citizens.

It appears that neither Mr Modi nor Arun Jaitley considered this as a possibility and are only looking at the non-existent "all is well" scenario. In a country where we have terrorists all around us and a neighbours called Pakistan and China, the possibility of a large scale cyber war attack on the citizens of this country targeting schemes such as Jandhan Yojana is a distinct possibility.

In order to protect farmers, the government has introduced crop insurance to cover the unknown risks of the vagaries of weather. But the government has not given attention to "Cyber Insurance" for individuals as a necessary ingredient of Digital India. Cyber insurance companies are today busy selling their policies to corporates but have shied away from providing direct Insurance to individuals.

It is therefore necessary for the central government to strive towards the goal of "Cyber Insurance for All" by mandating that service providers including banks and other intermediaries take group insurance for the benefit of their customers and provide a "Cyber Crime Risk Free Service".

The government should start a dialogue with insurance companies on achieving the goal of having cyber insurance for every person. A proper focus on cyber insurance for all with liabilities fixed on different service providers would go a long way to protect the "Digital Environment" from being abused and corrupted by greedy cyber criminals.

Tags:    cybercrime