Early one morning a woman and her husband called me from a neighbouring district of Kathmandu Valley (names not disclosed for her privacy purpose) in a frantic emotional state. After I calmed her a bit, she shared the following facts with me. I knew that she had been stalked by a police officer for some time and it was disturbing her. We had addressed that harassment case. Her husband was supportive, so they had overcome it. That morning, she informed me that her 15 year old daughter was being harassed by someone and her naked photo was being sent to her with a message that if she did not agree to comply with the desires of the person harassing her via msg, he would make that picture viral on Facebook.
The mother automatically thought it must be the police officer trying to take revenge. She was terrified as their child was now in trauma and refused to get out of her room! As their suspect was a police officer they dared not approach the police. However, after I was consulted, together with and NGO we convinced the couple to register the case at Nepal Police Cybercrime Bureau in Kathmandu. It took several months, but, the police did trace the perpetrator. To our surprise, it was not the suspected person but actually a person living with physical disabilities on a wheelchair, who was aware of the family’s personal background and wanted the 15 year old to satisfy his desires by telling her if she did not comply, her parents, especially her mother, would be shamed and killed. The police took the necessary action.
Unpleasant reality As the digital world advances, Nepal and her population, mainly the most vulnerable ones, are now subjected to cybercrime almost every day. As computers, mobiles and internet has become a day to day necessity of population all over the world, digital crimes have become an unpleasant reality which still goes unheeded by the majority of the population. In countries like Nepal, due to the lack of proper laws and implementation of what is prevalent, many people have become victimised by malicious organised and unorganised cybercrimes.
“Cyber security and cybercrime strategy and policy should be human rights friendly, mainly ensuring freedom of expression, freedom of associations and assembly rights and right to privacy online,” says Taranath Dahal, executive chief of Freedom Forum Nepal, during an interaction organised by them to discuss various aspects of human rights on internet/ cyberspace in Kathmandu recently. According to data obtained from Freedom Forum website, the cases of cybercrime is in the increasing trend in Nepal. In the fiscal year 2018/2019, 180 cases of cybercrime were registered among which 125 cases were from Kathmandu Valley and 55 cases from outside. This showed increase in data as compared to the previous year.
Since the last three years, the Information Technology Bill has been discussed in the federal parliament. Recently the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology released the drafts of the National Cyber Security Policy. It is therefore important to explore various aspects of the policies, rules and regulation that Nepal government is in the process of preparing, and which already exists, to make sure all aspects of human rights of every citizen in Nepal is addressed properly. Some of the most common cybercrimes reported in Nepal include ATM attacks, ransomware, spear phishing, privacy leaks and various crimes related to social media, including physical, mental and sexual harassments, trafficking, drug peddling, identification of theft possibilities, child pornography and dissemination of false information.
Character assassination, particularly of girls and women professionals and leaders is a common form of cybercrime that often goes unaddressed. According to a report in Onlinekhabar, issues related to cybersecurity first surfaced and started being discussed in Nepal in 2013. It is reported that around that time the Crime Investigation Bureau of Nepal police reported 19 cases of social media related crimes. It reports that in July 2013 a young woman fell victim to online swindling and transferred NRs 110,000 for online airline ticket booking. She was able to get only Rs 15,000.00 with help from the district court. Similarly the first reported case of cyberbullying was in 2014, in Kathmandu School of Law. The Nepal police arrested an 18 year old who had operated as an anonymous #Opnep for hacking government websites, including Nepal Telecom and National Tuberculosis Centre in 2016.
Digital literacy These were the first cases reported. Since then, it is not an exaggeration to say that cybercrime in Nepal, like all over the world, is increasing day by day. Children, elderly, people with disabilities, girls and women seem to be the most vulnerable to such attacks. Discussions on the draft of the National Cyber Security Policy 2078 from a human rights perspective is indeed very important to make sure all issues are addressed before the Policy gets finalised. As the world is advancing in the digital age, the global population starts using digital modes to meet their daily needs.
The digital literacy of different sections of the population varies based on different aspects of their existence. As a result, access to digital services, jobs and education on how to use the services in an informed and enlightened way and how to keep safe must be addressed properly by this policy so that all rights of the entire population is ensured. Due to lack of digital education and knowledge, many people are left behind in getting the basic necessities of a good and meaningful life. Likewise, due to lack of information, people get victimised by the smart digital nerds and people with ill intentions. Nepal’s cyber security strategy and policy should address this and make sure all Nepali citizens’ human rights are addressed and they get equal access to benefits and redressal methods equally.
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights activist. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)