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The Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013 — Penalising 'Peeping Toms' and Other Privacy Issues

Posted by Divij Joshi at Mar 31, 2013 02:00 PM |
The pending amendments to the Indian Penal Code, if passed in their current format, would be a huge boost for individual physical privacy by criminalising stalking and sexually-tinted voyeurism and removing the ambiguities in Indian law which threaten the privacy and dignity of individuals.

The author, Divij Joshi is a law student at NLS and is interning with CIS for its privacy project. This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.


What is the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013? What will it change?
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill is a bill which is to be introduced in the Indian Parliament, which will replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013[1] currently in force, and aims at amending the existing provisions in criminal law in order to improve the safety of women. The Bill seeks to make changes to the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act. The Bill will introduce unprecedented provisions in the Indian Penal Code which would criminalise sexual voyeurism and stalking and would amend legal provisions to protect the privacy of individuals, such as discontinuing the practice of examination of the sexual history of the victim of a sexual assault for evidence. With instances of threats to individual privacy on the rise in India, [2] it is high time that the criminal law expands its scope to deal with offences which violate physical privacy.

What threats to privacy will the Act address?
The Act will address the following violations of physical privacy:

Stalking
Draft provision
: The ordinance introduces the offence of stalking under Section 345D of the Indian Penal Code, and makes it punishable by imprisonment of not less than one year, which may extend to three years, and a fine. The provision prescribes that ‘Whoever follows a person and contacts, or attempts to contact such person to foster personal interaction repeatedly, despite a clear indication of disinterest by such person, or whoever monitors the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, or watches or spies on a person in a manner that results in a fear of violence or serious alarm or distress in the mind of such person, or interferes with the mental peace of such person.’ Hence, under the new law, constant, unwanted interaction of any one person with another, for any reason, can be made punishable, if the actions results in fear of violence or distress in any person, or interferes with their mental peace.

Current law and need for amendment: Stalking is generally characterized by unwanted and obsessive harassment or persecution of one person by another. Stalking can be a physical act such as constantly following a person, or can be done through electronic means — usually the internet (known as cyberstalking). Stalking may or may not be an act which physically threatens the security of an individual; however, it can cause mental trauma and fear to the person being stalked. Stalking is a blatant intrusion into an individual’s privacy, where the stalker attempts to establish relationships with their victim which the victim does not consent to and is not comfortable with. The stalker also intrudes into the victim’s private life by collecting or attempting to collect personal information the victim may not want to disclose, such as phone numbers or addresses, and misusing it. If the stalker is left undeterred to continue such actions, it can even lead to a threat to the safety of the victim. Cyber-stalking is a phenomenon which can prove to be even more invasive and detrimental to privacy, as most cyber-stalkers attempt to gain access to private information of the victims so that they can misuse it. Stalking, in any form, degrades the privacy of the victim by taking away their choice to use their personal information in ways they deem fit. [3] Recognizing stalking as an offence would not only protect the physical privacy rights of the victims, but also nip potentially violent crimes in the bud.

Many nations including Australia, the United States of America and Japan have penal provisions which criminalise stalking. [4] In India however, there is no appropriate response to stalking as an offence — either in its physical or electronic forms. The Information Technology Act, the legislation purported to deal with instances of cyber-crimes, overlooks instances of breach of online privacy and stalking which does not lead to publication of obscene images or other obvious manifestations of physical or mental threat. The general provision under which victims of stalking can file complaints is Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which states that — ‘Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.’There are several problems with using this section as a response to stalking. Without a particular definition of what comes under the scope of ‘intrusion of privacy’ under this section, there is reluctance both for the victim to approach the police and for the police to file the complaint. Usually the offence is coupled with some other form of harassment or violence, and the breach of privacy and trauma is not considered as a separate offence. For example, if a person is continuously following or trying to contact you without your consent or approval, but does not physically threaten or insult you, there is no protection in law against such a person. Hence, as pointed out, there is a need to recognize the breach of privacy as a separate ground of offence, notwithstanding other physical or mental grounds. Secondly, the provisions of this section require the criminal to have the ‘intent of insulting the modesty of a woman’. Aside from the difficulties in adjudging the ‘modesty’ of a woman, the provision limits the scope of harassment to only that which intends to insult the modesty of a woman and excludes any other intention as criminal behaviour. The present law amends these problems by disregarding the reason or intent for the behaviour, and by clearly defining the elements of the offence and making stalking as a stand-alone, punishable offence.

Sexual Voyeurism

Draft provision: The Act will add Section 345D to the Indian Penal Code, which reads as follows — ‘Whoever watches, or captures the image of, a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine, and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation 1.–– For the purposes of this section, “private act” includes an act carried out in a place which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy, and where the victim's genitals, buttocks or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear; or the victim is using a lavatory; or the person is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.

Explanation 2.–– Where the victim consents to the capture of images or any act, but not to their dissemination to third persons and where such image or act is disseminated, such dissemination shall be considered an offence under this section.’

The provision seeks to protect victims of voyeurism, who have been watched, or recorded, without their consent and under circumstances where the victim could reasonably expect privacy, and where the victim’s genitals, buttocks or breasts have been exposed. A reasonable expectation of privacy means that in the circumstances, whether in a public or a private place, the victim has a reasonable expectation that she is not being observed engaging in private acts such as disrobing or sexual acts. The test of reasonable expectation of privacy can be derived from similar provisions in voyeurism laws across the world, and also section 66E of the Information Technology Act.[5] It is particularly important because voyeurism does not necessarily take place in private places like the victims home, but also in public spaces where there is generally an expectation that exposed parts of one’s body are not viewed by anyone.

Current law and need for amendment: A ‘voyeur’ is generally defined as "a person who derives sexual gratification from the covert observation of others as they undress or engage in sexual activities." [6] Voyeurism is the act of a person who, usually for sexual gratification, observes, captures or distributes the images of another person without their consent or knowledge. With the development in video and image capturing technologies, observation of individuals engaged in private acts in both public and private places, through surreptitious means, has become both easier and more common. Cameras or viewing holes may be placed in changing rooms or public toilets, which are public spaces where individuals generally expect a reasonable degree of privacy, and where their body may be exposed. Voyeurism is an act which blatantly defies reasonable expectations of privacy that individuals have about their bodies, such as controlling its exposure to others.[7] Voyeurism is an offence to both the privacy as well as the dignity of a person, by infringing upon the right of individuals to control the exposure of their bodies without their consent or knowledge, either through unwarranted observation of the individual, or through distribution of images or videos against the wishes or without the knowledge of the victim.

Voyeurism is a criminal offence in many jurisdictions across the world such as Australia,[8] the United States,[9] Canada,[10] and the UK,[11] which criminalise either the capturing of certain images, or observation of individuals, or both. In India, the capturing, distribution and transferring of images of ‘private areas’ of a person’s body, under circumstances where the person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy that their body would not be exposed to public view, is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both. However, this does not cover instances where a person observes another in places and situations where they do not consent to being observed. The inclusion of voyeurism as an offence in the IPC would close several loopholes in the voyeurism law and hopefully be a precedent for the state to better work towards securing the bodily privacy of its citizens.

Examination of Sexual History and Privacy
Draft provision: The amendment to Section 53A of the Indian Evidence Act in the Bill reads, “In a prosecution for an offence under section 354, section 354A, section 354B, section 354C, sub-section (1) or sub-section (2) of section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C, section 376D or section 376E of the Indian Penal Code or for attempt to commit any such offence, where the question of consent is in issue, evidence of the character of the victim or of such person’s previous sexual experience with any person shall not be relevant on the issue of such consent or the quality of consent.”

A similar proviso is added to Section 376 of the Indian Evidence Act.

According to the above provision, in a trial for sexual assault or rape the evidence supplied of a victim’s previous sexual experience or her ‘character’ would not be admissible as relevant evidence to determine the fact of the consent or the quality of the consent.

Current law and need for amendment: The Indian Evidence Act is the legislation which governs the admissibility of evidence in the different courts. In cases of rape or sexual assault and related crimes, the evidence of consent often considered is not just that of the consent of the woman in the act at that time itself, but rather her previous sexual experience and “promiscuous character”. Even though it has been widely censured by the highest court,[12] such practices continue to dominate and prejudice the justice of victims of sexual assault and harassment.[13] The examination of the victim’s sexual history in court is an unwarranted intrusion into their privacy through public disclosure of the sexual history and details of her sexual life, which causes potential embarrassment and sexual stereotyping of the victim, especially in a conservative, patriarchal society like in India. With the new amendments, such evidence will not be permitted in a court of law, hence, it will act as a safeguards against defendants attempting to influence the court's decision through disparaging the ‘character’ of the victim, and will protect the disclosure of intimate, personal details like previous sexual encounters of the victim.

Conclusion
Privacy, crime, and safety of women are intricately linked in any legal system. An essential part of the security of citizens is the safety of their privacy and personal information. If any legal system does not protect the privacy — both of body and of information — of its people, there will always be insecurity in such a system. With the recent debates on women’s safety, several crucial privacy and security issues have been raised, such as the criminalization of voyeurism and stalking, which is a huge boost for privacy rights of citizens in India, and it is hopeful that the government will continue the trend of considering privacy issues along when addressing security concerns for the state.


Update to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013 - Penalising Peeping Toms and other privacy issues

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, was made into law on April 3, 2013. Several provisions under the Act differ from the provisions in the ordinance. Under the Act, unlike in the Ordinance, the terms or watches or spies on a person in a manner that results in a fear of violence or serious  alarm or distress in the mind of such person, or interferes with the mental peace of such person are not included as a part of the offence  of stalking. Hence, the offence is limited to the physical act of  following or contacting a person, provided that there has been a clear  sign of disinterest, or to monitoring the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other forms of electronic communication.  

Hence, from the confusing language of the provision, it would seem that the offence of stalking related to monitoring of activities of a woman is restricted to the monitoring of online communications, and not physical acts. The caveat of such monitoring having to cause serious alarm, distress or interference with the mental peace of the victim is also removed. The removal of unwaranted intrusion through watching or spying of a person, and indeed, the removal of any subjective test to determine the effect of stalking is a departure from stalking provisions accross the world, and is a setback for individual privacy, because stalking per se is a privacy offence, relating not only to the physical interference but also the mental harassment it causes to the victims.

The provision has also increased the puinishment for the crime in the first offence to upto three years, and subsequently to upto five years. Further, the provisions sought to be included within Section 53A and Section 376 of the Indian Evidence Act are now included in Section 146 of the Act.

Link to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013


[1]. Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, available at http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/criminalLawAmndmt-040213.pdf

[2]. http://bit.ly/10nMSTT

[3]. Anita Gurumurthy and Nivedita Menon, Violence against Women via Cyberspace, Economic and Political Weekly, 44 (40), 19, (October, 2009).

[4]. For example, see laws listed http://bit.ly/126hBpO

[5]. Section 66E, The Information Technology Act, 2000: ‘66E. Punishment for violation of privacy.- Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both.

Explanation - For the purposes of this section--

(a) “transmit” means to electronically send a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons;
(b) “capture”, with respect to an image, means to videotape, photograph, film or record by any means;
(c) “private area” means the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast;
(d) “publishes” means reproduction in the printed or electronic form and making it available for public;
(e) “under circumstances violating privacy” means circumstances in which a person can have a reasonable expectation that--
(i) he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that an image of his private area was being captured; or
(ii) any part of his or her private area would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place.

[6]. Oxford English Dictionary, available at http://bit.ly/YN2ZvI

[7]. Lance Rothenberg, Rethinking Privacy: Peeping Toms, Video Voyeurs, and the failure of criminal law to recognize a reasonable expectation of privacy in the public space, American University Law Review, 49, 1127, (1999).

[8]. Section 91J, Crimes Act, 1910: "A person who, for the purpose of obtaining sexual arousal or sexual gratification, observes a person who is engaged in a private act without the consent of the person being observed to being observed for that purpose, and knowing that the person being observed does not consent to being observed for that purpose, is guilty of an offence."

[9]. Video Voyeurism Protection Act, 2004.

[10]. Section 162, Criminal Code of Canada: " (1) Every one commits an offence who, surreptitiously, observes — including by mechanical or electronic means — or makes a visual recording of a person who is in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy, if
(a) the person is in a place in which a person can reasonably be expected to be nude, to expose his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts, or to be engaged in explicit sexual activity;
(b) the person is nude, is exposing his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts, or is engaged in explicit sexual activity, and the observation or recording is done for the purpose of observing or recording a person in such a state or engaged in such an activity; or
(c) the observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose.

[11]. Section 67, Sexual Offences Act, 2003.

[12]. http://bit.ly/10nNDwg

[13]. http://reut.rs/13CIDXU

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