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Gender Surveillance and Digital Rights in India: A Statistical Explainer

By Nayan Jain, Edited By Ritwika Chakravarty

From Aadhar to Arogya Setu, the scope of surveillance has amplified with enormous digitalisation. Artificial intelligence (AI) enabled facial recognition technology and drones have been brought into public conscience without any consent. Scrutiny can become a tool of elimination and suppression if proper regulation is not followed; especially for women.

There are 4 reasons that women targeted for surveillance have pernicious outcomes. Those are:

i. Any piece of information can always be used to blackmail or denigrate her character like

sextortion and doxing.

ii. Women are constantly harassed online. The surveillance can further harm their ability to

speak up and voice opinions.

iii. Electronic devices subsume information that is intensely personal so a hack has dangerous

consequences for women which is akin to a violation of bodily integrity.

iv. These breaches lead to misuse of laws to implicate women in false cases.

What are digital rights?

Digital rights are human rights; an extension of the rights set out in the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ by the United Nations as applied to the online world.

The three objectives are: -

· To assure access to the Internet

· Avoiding the so-called digital divide

· Ensure proper use of the network as a shared advantage fitting to the entire human race.

The loopholes in the Indian Cyber Laws for women are: -


The Indian Technology Act, 2000 is not equipped to challenge privacy related issues (considering that privacy is a fundamental right) and sexist/misogynistic content, it only subsumes the issuing and circulation of sexually explicit content. Moreover, the amendment in the ITA in 2008 was constructed on a faulty premise that reduction in the quantum of punishment could be compensated with the increase in fine.


The IPC also does not exclusively deal with technology-mediated violence.


The penalties imposed by the ITA are nominal compared to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and the manner of application is also lenient. For instance, the IT Act has compensations of up to INR 5 crore, under section-43 of the IT Act. Though, there hasn't been a single case when the penalty has exceeded INR 12-13 lakh.


Adv (Dr) Prashant Mali, cyber & privacy law expert at the Bombay High Court explains that companies like Facebook and WhatsApp evade allegations of data breach because they are covered within the definition of the “Intermediary” under Section 2(1) (w) of the ITA. They are cushioned by the ‘safe harbour’ provision under Sec-79 of the IT Act, 2000, which exempts intermediaries from liability in certain instances.


There is no law to counter cyberstalking. It is only mentioned under Section 72 of IT Act 2000 which states that “if any person who, in pursuance of any of the powers conferred under this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder, has secured access to any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material without the consent of the person concerned discloses such electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material to any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both”.


Problematically, watching, downloading, and storing cyber pornography is not illegal in India, only publishing and spreading cyber pornography via instant messaging, emails or any other mode of digital transmission is an offence. India is a country plagued with taboos around sex education and coupled with cheap internet plans, pornography is just another way to objectify women with unrealistic representations.

Table 1: Number of reported crimes against women in India from 2018-2020

Source: NCRB

Table 2: Number of cyber-crimes reported against women in India in 2020

Source: NCRB

Correlation between Cyber-crimes against women and crimes against women

The scatter plot confirms that there is a positive correlation between the two variables and the exact correlation calculated with the help of Excel comes out to be 0.471927 i.e., the states which report high crimes against women also report high cybercrimes against women.


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