With almost everything of importance in our daily lives now being connected to the Internet, it makes sense to have cyberlaws or rules that govern the cyberspace. And, along with the need for cyberlaw also arises the need for cyberlawyers.

Dr Karnika Seth, India’s topmost cyberlawyer, sheds light on a career in the field of cyberlaw, the future of this field, the cybercrime scene in India and more. Here are excerpts from the interview.

1. What is cyberlaw?

Cyberlaw is the study of laws that govern the cyberspace and its emerging technologies, and netizens and their activities, responsibilities and liability.

2. Why do we need cyberlaws today?

Laws that deter perpetrators of crime in the offline world need application in the cyberspace as well to maintain law and order, and safeguard gullible individuals from being duped or attacked. In the absence of cyberlaws, there would be no code of ethics to follow, freedom wouldn’t be respected and criminals wouldn’t be punished. So, to maintain the rule of law on the Internet, we need cyberlaws.

3. Share with us what prompted you to study cyberlaw for a career…

The right use of technology is empowering and uplifting, but, at the same time, it is challenging to make and enforce laws on emerging technologies. This fascinates me as there is always a new challenge to work on! Also, what interests me is the dynamic nature of the Internet.

4. What are the different types of cybercrimes?

Some of the cybercrimes we often come across are identity theft, cheating by personation, cyberbullying, sextortion, hacking, phishing, revenge pornography, trolling, defamation, grooming, online child trafficking and extortion.

5. What are some of the cybercrimes that take place in India?

Cyberbullying is the most rampant crime against children, followed by phishing attacks and hacking. In fact, reliable sources indicate that there is one cybercrime committed every 10 minutes.

6. What kind of cybercrimes cases do you handle?

I deal with complex cases of data theft, online harassment, child grooming, hacking, identity theft, defamation, intellectual property frauds and phishing attacks. I also deal with some other types of cybercrimes. I practice law in the Supreme Court and other courts in India, and deal with both civil and criminal cases. I also advise the Government, private companies and individuals on cyberlaw issues, including policymaking such as curbing fake news, launching of e-businesses and data security.

7. How does India fare when it comes to cybercrimes?

Every year cybercrimes register a 10 per cent increase. Cybercrimes keep evolving and new types keep emerging such as blue whale attacks, pornography, online gambling and child trafficking. Other cybercrimes include fake news, sexting, revenge porn, ransomware and man in the middle attacks.

8. Some tips to prevent falling prey to cybercrimes…

All of us should do a few simple things like creating strong passwords and not sharing OTP with anyone. Also, have a two-step verification for NetBanking, install filters to prevent children from accessing content not fit for their age, and come up with strict screen time guidelines for children.

9. Where can we report a cybercrime?

You can do so at the nearest police station and to the website/service provider concerned at the earliest. Also, ensure that you keep electronic evidence safe by taking screenshots and printouts.

10. What are the reasons behind the spurt in cybercrimes?

Two major reasons include the anonymity afforded by cyberspace and the use of spoofing tools which hide the real identity of the criminal. Other reasons include the lack of awareness among the general public and training among law enforcement agencies to combat cybercrimes.

11. Do you think cyberlaw is a good career option for youngsters?

Yes, it is, but the field will take some time to develop into a full-fledged practice area, particularly as litigation in this sphere is very complex. However, the field of cyberlaw is definitely growing.

12. What are the challenges for those opting to study cyberlaw?

I chose to practice cyberlaw as I have a creative bent for this subject! Moreover, a lot of work I have done in this field is also pro bono for the government and other law enforcement bodies. Before adopting cyberlaw as a specialisation, it’s necessary to practise in all other fields of law for at least 4–5 years. Having said that, I feel that a fresh law graduate should first focus on areas that will pay off, and the opportunity to be paid is perhaps higher in other fields of law.

13. Some of the skills that students of cyberlaw should try to develop in themselves…

Anyone interested in taking up cyberlaw for a career should engage in extensive reading, writing and research about new technologies and laws applicable thereto such as artificial intelligence and block chain technologies.

14. According to you, what kind of online behaviour makes an individual prone to falling victim to cybercrime?

If one acts without thinking, it can be very damaging. I have handled cases of hacking and phishing where individuals clicked on suspicious links without realising that such an action could compromise their devices. Also, the habit of sharing OTPs, leaving phones unattended, typing ‘NetBanking’ in a search engine instead of the URL of the bank, using ATM machines with skimmers, and careless use of plastic money increase the chances of falling victim to cybercrime.

15. More parents and children are sharing their pictures and personal details on the Internet. What kind of dangers does such behaviour expose them to?

Such actions can lead to many unwanted consequences. Images and videos can be easily morphed and sold on online pornographic sites. Cybercriminals may contact these kids through social media and gain more information about their families. This may lead to sexual attacks and sextortion crimes. Swindling of money may also happen, if a child shares credit card information with a stranger who promises inducements such as sending an online game to play or a free gift.

16. With most of us having social media accounts, what kind of information can we safely share about ourselves?

Festival pictures or dinner parties are fine but I recommend posting travel pictures and messages once the trip is over. Personal pictures of children especially bathing or changing clothes should not be posted.

17. Tell us what your book, ‘Computers, internet and new technology laws’, delves into…

It’s a comprehensive reference book for lawyers, academicians, government and law enforcement officials, and everyone interested in knowing about the laws that regulate the Internet. The content of my book is simple and serves those who belong to the tech world as well as those who aren’t so tech savvy. My other book, ‘Protection of Children on Internet’, is on best practices to maintain cyber safety. It’s beneficial for children, parents, schools and teachers. On a request from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), I have also co-authored a handbook titled, ‘Child Victims of Cyber Crime Legal Toolkit’, which is available for free online.

18. Your message to those youngsters who are interested in pursuing a career in cyber law…

Be ready to put in ten times more hard work and traverse uncharted paths as cyberlaw is still evolving. Also, take keen interest in the tech world and forensics, develop good research and drafting skills, and focus on advocacy skills.