With only 250 convictions, India’s cybercrime conviction rate remains abysmally low

Data released recently by the National Crimes Records Bureau of India reveals that India’s rate of conviction for cybercrime remains abysmally low.

By Asheeta Regidi

Data released recently by the National Crimes Records Bureau of India reveals that India’s rate of conviction for cybercrime remains abysmally low. Maharashtra was found to have only 1 conviction in 2015. This problem, however, is not restricted to Maharashtra and can be seen throughout India. The NCRB report shows that in 2015, a total of 8045 cybercrimes were reported. While 5,102 persons were arrested, only 250 were convicted. This is an increase over the statistics released last year, where 7,201 cybercrimes were reported and only 65 persons were convicted. Despite the increase, it is clear that not much has improved since last year.

UP highest number of convictions, Maharashtra and Karnataka way behind

The number of cases registered with the police has increased by 20% since 2014. Of these, the highest number of cases reported are from Uttar Pradesh, with 2,208 cases, followed by Maharashtra with 2,195 cases and Karnataka with 1,447 cases. As far as convictions go, however, UP has the highest number with 99 this year, followed by 29 in Chattisgarh and 25 in Telangana. Maharashtra and Karnataka, home to 2 top Indian cities, Mumbai and Bangalore, have only 1 and 3 convictions respectively. Delhi, another major city, only has 3 convictions in 2015.

Very high rate of pending cases

According to the NCRB data, a total of 11,789 cases are pending investigations. 60.1% of the cybercrime cases with the police are pending, while the courts have an even higher pendency rate of 90.3%. The courts are reported to have 6,435 pending trials.

The high rate of pending cases leads to the very low rate of convictions. The chief cause of this is the issue of evidence and investigation. The problems with evidence are prevalent at every stage of the case. These range from delay in discovery and reporting of cybercrimes, improper handling of evidence by the victims or the police themselves, to an insufficient understanding of the complicated procedures established under law for valid digital evidence.  In a previous article analyzing 2014 NCRB data, this was found to be the major cause of the low cybercrime conviction rates back then. Clearly, the issue remains unresolved.

Difficulty in arresting foreign nationals

The NCRB statistics show that of the arrests made, 9,960 arrests were of Indian nationals, while only 8 arrests were of foreign nationals.

The transnational element of cybercrimes means that a large number of cybercrimes are committed from abroad. For example, the cyberterrorist activities like the hacking of Indian websites are mostly from other countries. Even the recent ATM banking fraud showed use of the cards in other countries, indicating that the hackers may have been from abroad.

The lack of proper treaties in place to achieve the required cooperation for carrying out arrests prevent any action from being taken against cybercrimes conducted from abroad. For example, in one case, 4 Nigerian nationals who were granted bail for a cybercrime escaped from India, preventing any further progress in the trial. Though the Information Technology Act,2000 as well as the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provide the courts with the required long-arm jurisdiction, enforcing it practically becomes impossible.

Inadequate cooperation for investigations

This issue also exists when trying to conduct investigations. For example, it is difficult to obtain IP addresses, since the service providers are often located outside India, and do not provide the information easily. This could also be seen in the recent case where YouTube refused to divulge the IP address of an accused to the Madras High Court. The lack of such cooperation often prevents investigators from obtaining information that is vital for any progress in the case. The police have reported cases that have been pending for over 8 years due to this.

Similar problems also exist at a more local level, where cybercrimes conducted from one part of India affect another part. Issues have been faced with achieving the cooperation of the local police for carrying out investigations. With something as delicate as digital evidence, every small delay makes it that much more difficult to carry out a successful investigation.

Difficulty in validating evidence

The difficulties and inordinate delays faced with investigation have prevented many cybercrimes reported from going to trial. Even when cases are chargesheeted- over 2396 cases were chargesheeted in 2015- many can lead to acquittals on grounds like insufficient evidence. Presenting sufficient and legally valid evidence for a cybercrime is very difficult. For example, even when the offending device is seized, establishing the involvement of the accused in the use of the device becomes difficult. Yet another issue is that while the number of persons being trained in this field is increasing, frequent transfers prevents many cases from being concluded.

Lack of expertise

Clearly, there are a greater number of cybercriminals than there are experts to resolve cybercrimes.  Incentives need to be provided to attract a greater number of experts, like ethical hackers, to cybercrime investigation. Training must be provided at an international level to ensure quality of the investigation. Every person involved in the trial of a cybercrime, from the police officer at the ground level to the judges dealing with the cybercrime cases, need to be specifically trained in the field.

India is yet to acquire adequate experts in the field of cyber forensics, particularly when compared to its foreign counterparts. The use of mobile phones to commit crimes has led to a new set of problems. The different operating systems of each mobile device implies that each device needs a different method of extraction. India is not yet adequately equipped in the field of mobile forensics.

Good signs for cybercrime resolution

Despite the bad news through the NRCB report, some improvement can also be seen. Maharashtra inaugurated 34 well equipped cyber labs earlier this year. A few months ago, Interpol agreed to assist the Hyderabad police in tracking cybercriminals attacking India from other countries. Increased cooperation for cybercrime resolution has also been promised between India and Israel, and also India and China. Greater technical expertise and improved international cooperation can go a long way in resolving cybercrimes. Hopefully, these steps will lead to an increased conviction rate by next year.

The author is a lawyer with a specialisation in cyber laws and has co-authored books on the subject.

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