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Monday, July 16, 2001

Be a cyber law expert
Sumesh Raizada

THE Internet, which started as purely a research and defence communication network in the USA, is the most talked about term in the field of Information Technology today. It has now reached each and every corner of the world, cutting across geographical, cultural, religious and language barriers. It is being utilised widely in e-commerce, entertainment, news, education and e-mail. Several banks are conducting on line transactions through their respective Web sites. Multinational are using the Net for outsourcing work to India in applications like medical transcription, CRM and call centres. Enterprises are using it for internal communication between the sales offices and manufacturing units located at far off places.

Business transactions are now taking place among countries or between companies located in different countries, all through the Internet. With such a heavy transaction in terms of volume and money there is a need to regulate e-business to avoid financial losses to the parties involved. So far, no universal law exists for Netizens and therefore each country is formulating its own laws to suit the requirements. However, a majority of those using the Internet for entertainment or for other commercial activities are unaware of their rights and duties related to the Internet. Thus, the latest career option that is now emerging in the IT sector is that of Cyber Law professionals. Since e-commerce and other related application of the Internet are bound to grow, crimes of varying proportion shall increase. Requirement for experts in cyber laws is therefore bound to grow considerably. These professionals shall be required to educate Netizens and e-traders on various laws and acts within the Indian constitution and punishments for the violation of those laws.


There have been instances when the Internet is being misused causing losses running into millions. A few months ago, a schoolboy hacked into the computers of secret research installation in the USA and gained access to some information stored on them. The data could have been destroyed or even changed by him, may be for fun, but would have resulted into losses beyond imagination. Sometimes, while accessing the e-mail or surfing through the Net, a deadly virus created by others, enters into the computerís hard disk of the Net user and completely damages the system. Situation can become even more severe if it enters the computer system of an organisation and passes on to a number of computers connected within and outside the organisation. In many cases, others misuse photograph or name of the person on the Internet without his consent, causing considerable damage to the reputation and character. Then, there are squatters who simply registers domain name which are similar to or related to businesses of other firms, and then sell off these domain names to interested parties at a higher prices. All these are considered broadly as cyber crimes and the Government of India is initiating action to counter these crimes so that rights of Net surfers are fully protected.

Cyber crimes are quite different from criminal cases; property or family disputes as it become difficult to identify the culprits and the extent of damage caused by their action. The crimes committed on the Web, though sometimes non-deliberate have severe financial repercussions. Software firms lose millions due to piracy of their propriety software. Then there are fundamentalist groups who spread propaganda against some organisation or even countries and spread misinformation. As e- commerce is gaining momentum and the Internet being applied in applications like telemarketing, tele banking, ATM transactions and online reservations, cyber laws have now been framed to protect the rights of Netizens

The IT Act that was passed recently by the Parliament provides provision of punishment both in terms of fine as well as imprisonment for cyber offences and crimes. It recognises e-commerce as a valid trade and those transactions that have occurred through electronic media like television, Internet, telephone are broadly covered under this. As per this Act, a contract comes into force as soon as the acceptance to certain conditions are given or the order is placed, irrespective of whether a written contract has been signed or not. E-mail is considered to be the contract document in such cases. The law also recognises the digital signatures required for banking and other applications. The Controller of certifying agencies specifies the standards that have to be followed for digital signatures and he also evaluates the performance of certifying authorities. The IT law also defines cyber crimes like hacking, creation of viruses, and taking away data from the computers without knowledge of its users, pornography, etc.

There are lot of research materials available on the Internet, which has to be protected from being misused, and being commercially exploited by others, hence law also takes into account copyrights infringement, patents and intellectual property rights. The adjudicating officer appointed by the government decides the nature and seriousness of cyber crimes. If proved, fines can be up to Rs 1 crore or three years of imprisonment or both. This can be challenged in the Cyber Law Applette Tribunal, which can be further challenged in high court. An officer of the rank of DSP is authorised to arrest those found involved in cyber crimes.

Those interested in career law in cyber laws can work independently as consultants or in legal consulting and arbitration firms for providing assistance to the advocates on cases related to cyber crimes. They can also work with the large companies, which are having heavy stakes on the Net, to keep a watch on any possible infringement and to advise on action to be taken. If they are law graduates, cyber law professionals have an added advantage and can command a higher price for their services.

While law professionals in conventional trades are many, there are a few cyber law experts in this country. Sensing this opportunity and need for the same, courses on cyber laws have been initiated by some organisations. These specialised courses introduce students to basic concepts of the Internet, trade transactions through it, laws that govern those transactions and penalties for violations. Curriculum has been formulated to suit the different application and educational background of the students. Certificate and diploma courses have recently been started by a Bangalore-based organisation called Cyberlawcollege.com. It is conducting both online as well as offline courses on cyber laws. The course curriculum and the eligibility criteria is different for e-commerce and management professionals, undergraduate students, law professionals and bankers.

Courses are conducted through time-bound distribution of lessons and evaluation, periodical interactive sessions and projects. Interaction is through e-mail, online chatting or through printed material by post. Each student is assigned an instructor to monitor progress and to provide guidance. The certificate or PG diploma courses are usually of 6 to 24 weeks duration and fees normally ranges from Rs 1000 to Rs.10, 000. Topics covered are scope of cyber laws, digital contracts, digital signatures, role of certifying authorities, IT Act 2000, issues related to domain name, copyright and patents in digital media, cyber crimes and laws and e-business management.

Cyberkanoon.com is another site, which is in the field of educating students and practicing professionals on Cyber laws. It also offers online assistance on legal matters and on web related issues to the clients.

As the Internet-based applications in the government departments, banks, telemarketing and online stock trading shall grow, responsibilities of cyber law professionals is bound to increase in proportion. The career prospects are bright for these professionals due to limited availability of trained and educated experts on the subject. However a professional to be aware of the cyber laws prevalent in other countries also, so as to increase their vision and scope of operations.