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The Concept of Online Kidnapping with Reference to the Indian Laws

With the advent of technology and easy access to the internet, the world has been confronted with a new form of kidnapping termed as online kidnapping also called as digital kidnapping or virtual kidnapping. In the times of COVID-19, there has been an increasing surge in online crimes and several cases of online kidnapping have been reported. This article seeks to discuss the true meaning and scope of this new form of kidnapping in the light of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Kidnapping is one of the gravest offences against the human body. In the most basic sense, kidnapping refers to the taking of a person from one place to another against the will of such person or confinement of such person into a controlled space.

Under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860, Kidnapping can be classified into two types:

  1. Kidnapping beyond the limits of India
  2. Kidnapping from lawful guardianship
Section 360 of the Act defines kidnapping beyond the limits of India. A person is said to be kidnapped beyond the limits of India if the kidnapper conveys the person beyond the limits of India and without the consent of that person or the lawful guardian of that person. Such offence can be committed on any person of any age provided that such person has not consented.

Sections 361 to 363 of the Act defines kidnapping from the lawful guardianship as the taking or the enticing of a minor or a person of an unsound mind without the consent of the lawful guardian or out of the keeping of the lawful guardian.

Online kidnapping has not been defined anywhere however it can be briefly classified on the basis of the several different cases:

  1. Identity theft: Creation of new identity/identities on social media platforms by stealing and using the photos of the victim without any prior permission and without the knowledge of the person. The perpetrator portrays himself to be such a person and wrongfully misrepresents others. By the creation of such new identities the perpetrators interact with other people especially children and infiltrate their lives. The most recent hashtags that have been observed when sharing or posting such photos are Adoption RP, Kid RP, Baby RP, orphan RP. The Perpetrators create a backstory to interact with other persons.

    The Information technology act 2000 defines identity theft under section 66C as the fraudulent or the dishonest use of:
    • An electronic signature
    • Password or
    • Any other unique identification feature of any other person.
       
    The punishment of such identity theft is imprisonment up to 3 years and fine up to Rs.1, 00,000. The offence is compoundable except when it affects their socio-economic conditions of the country or has been committed against a child below the age of 18 years or against a woman.

    It is also pertinent to state at this juncture section 66D of the Information technology act 2000 which provides for the punishment for cheating by personation by means of any computer resource. Hence a person is said to have cheated by personation if he knowingly substitutes or represents himself to be some other person. Moreover the offence is said to have been committed irrespective of the fact that the individual personated is a real or imaginary person.

    The punishment for cheating by personation is imprisonment up to 3 years and fine up to Rs.1lakh.

  2. By Telephonic coercive schemes and tactics aimed at extorting quick ransom from the victim's family by manipulating that their loved ones have been kidnapped and are at Great risk and the parents or the guardians have to act as soon as possible and have to transfer sums immediately failing which they would have to bear consequences. In such cases the parents or the guardians are left with no opportunity to cross verify or to check if their persons are safe. \

    There are many scenarios in such cases:
    1. Call spoofing: Call spoofing is the practice of showing a phone number different from the telephone from which the call was actually placed.
    2. By altering the images of the target victim and establishing a belief that the target is under the control of the perpetrator.
    3. By communicating with the target victims and engaging in several psychological tricks and manipulation to force the victim to isolate themselves and going incommunicado due to which the related person of the victim is forced to act without any reasonable opportunity to recheck.

Under the Indian Penal Code 1860 extortion has been defined under section 383 to 389 which provides that Extortion is said to have been committed when a person puts any other person in fear of any injury to such person or any other person with a view of dishonestly inducing the person to deliver:
  • Any property or
  • Valuable security or
  • Anything signed sealed which may be converted into a valuable security
The punishment of extortion is three years or fine or both. The intention of the perpetrator has to be dishonest to cause: wrongful gain or wrongful loss.

Online kidnapping is a very new and emerging crime, and there is a need for comprehensive laws directly addressing this issue to ensure speedy justice and action at the times of need. Anyone who is subject to such a crime must report immediately to the concerned authorities.

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