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Law yet to catch up with tech-enabled peeping toms

by Prasad Krishna last modified Nov 08, 2012 08:06 AM
Devices that give sharp images are the order of the day. But this clarity is lacking when it comes to regulating use of cameras and camera phones in public places, say policy makers.

The article by Sandhya Soman & Pratiksha Ramkumar was published in the Times of India on November 7, 2012.


If there is one thing that sends more clients harried by blackmailers to detectives like A M Malathy of Malathy Detective Agency, it is the pervasive presence of the camera, most often inside modest cell phones. "One girl had to leave a town as her ex-boyfriend uploaded her photo on the internet and referred to her as a call girl. We got the web page removed," says Malathy.

But tracing culprits is difficult if they are strangers on the road. Absence of a privacy law makes it difficult for police to book culprits. "If someone photographs a woman on a bus, we can ask the person to delete it. But we can't book the person s there is no law," says Jegabar Sali, assistant commissioner, cyber crime cell.

The Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 talks of punishment only in cases where a person's private areas have been photographed. However, things are looking up with the government trying to draw up the Right to Privacy Bill.

"The problems posed by digital technology are complex and we need to define what these new crimes are," says Rajeev Chandrasekhar, independent Member of Parliament, who introduced the Right to Privacy Bill,2010 in Parliament. "I did it because I got representations from parents and women about how MMS clips were being used to blackmail them," says Chandrasekhar.

There have been attempts at legislation earlier. The Mobile Camera Phone Users (Code of Conduct) Bill, 2006 attempted to regulate the use of camera phones in public places. It proposed that manufactures build camera phones that flash a light or emit a 'click' sound, and that users should get consent of the person being photographed.

"The sound and light are for informing people that they are being filmed," says Sunil Abraham, executive director, Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore-based organisation that was part of the committee. These provisions are part of South Korea's privacy law, which sought to bring down cases of technology-enabled 'upskirt' photography, where photos of women were taken without their permission, he says.

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