Dr Karnika Seth is a Cyberlaw Expert & Founding Partner of Seth Associates. She is also Expert Faculty of the CBI, National Investigation Authority, National Police Academy and National Judicial Academy.
The Optimist: India’s fast-changing digital climate is a major challenge for law and order agencies across the country. How do you think men and women in khaki can fight this emerging problem?
Dr Seth: Technology has changed our world in an unprecedented way and our laws have been evolving to catch up with the dynamism of cyber space and rising threats of online crime. For law-enforcement agencies to combat cyber crime, it’s essential to train our law-enforcement officers and set up training labs with cyber forensic facilities. Our judicial officers, too, require frequent rounds of training in cyber laws to deal with the electronic evidence filed in cyber crime cases. I’ve been an official trainer of the CBI, National Police Academy, NIA, BPR&D, and judicial academies in various states where such training workshops have been conducted by experts to spread cyber awareness. This is imperative and needs more frequent interactions with the law-enforcers.
The Optimist: Robust cyber policing needs a strong legal skeleton as back-up. Do you think the nation’s legal system is adequate for dealing with cyber threats that the country faces?
Dr Seth: At present, no. But our laws have been changing with the demands of the times. We require a better privacy law framework which will be brought in by the Personal Data Protection Act recommended by the Justice Srikrishna Committee once the law is enacted. Newer policies are needed to combat the menace of fake news and other emerging issues, such as net neutrality. Cyber security standards need to be revisited and the liabilities of social media companies need to be re-examined, particularly with regard to misuse of platforms during elections or to combat the menace of fake news!
The Optimist: Lack of cyber literacy among lawyers and the police force has always been a stumbling block in the war against cyber criminals. How do you think we can upgrade the system?
Dr Seth: We need to conduct more structured and frequent interactions with the police, as well as judicial officers, and provide the latest equipment, labs and software for better cyber forensic analyses. Many cases don’t end in conviction because of a lack of electronic evidence. Proper collection, preservation and production of e-evidence in a court of law are essential for speedy deliverance of justice.
The Optimist: Multiple legal forums across India have stressed the increasing need for stricter cyber laws in view of the growing importance of social media. But these stricter laws may also encroach upon individuals’ privacy. How can a proper balance be maintained between privacy and the law?
Dr Seth: Freedom of speech and privacy must be balanced. There’s a thin line where one can encroach upon the other. Our Constitution says both are fundamental rights and can’t be taken away except through legal procedures. Free speech can’t be bridled arbitrarily, or whimsically; nor can the right to privacy be violated except for reasons allowed by Articles 19 and 21 in the Constitution. For instance, at times when there’s a threat to national sovereignty and integrity, or a threat to public order or decency, freedom of speech may be curtailed. Likewise, a person’s personal details may be required by a law-enforcement agency when there’s reasonable suspicion that he has committed an offence.
The Optimist: India has embraced e-sports with open arms. There are over 600 million Internet users under age 25 and a boom in the Internet market has fuelled the growth of this new sports genre. But this is still not secured by a strong legal framework and this segment often faces allegations of match-fixing, cheating and betting. The solution…?
Dr Seth: I think there’s a need for drafting an online gaming law code. Chance-based games fall in the online gambling category, which is illegal, while auction-based games may be games of skill. There’s a thin line between the two, since many games involve both chance and skill. This certainly needs deliberations and a new guideline/code must be drafted.
The Optimist: The poll season is plagued by the ‘fake news’ phenomenon. Almost all political parties have been found guilty of spreading fake news to woo voters. Isn’t it time to frame a strong law to stop this?
Dr Seth: Yes, the Election Commission has issued mandates to block fake election campaign pages within 2-3 hours. This may not be enough as AI-based bots are found tweeting at length, influencing the elections and the common man. The formidable challenges of tracing the origin of an ad and verification of a user’s identity are often challenging, too, as it is to block its further dissemination.
The Optimist: As a cyber law expert, do you think digitization of the judiciary would help India fight cyber crime in a much smarter way?
Dr Seth: Yes. We’ve already worked on this aspect. An e-courts project launched by the Supreme Court e-committee, where I was privileged to draft its filing manual, has brought paperless filing into existence in 21 high courts and about 18,000 district courts in India. Digitization of the judiciary will pave the way for more efficient time and file management and making the justice delivery system more environment-friendly and efficient.
The Optimist: What are your expectations from the new government as a cyber law expert?
Dr Seth: Whoever forms the new government ought to immediately address as a priority the emerging issues of cyber laws, such as tackling fake news, debate on the Personal Data Protection Bill and working with various social media platforms to carve out public policies to enhance their security and accountability and respect their users’ privacy!