Crossborder cybercrime and punishment


Rama married Raju of Lalitpur, after which Raju moved to Sydney to pursue higher education. The couple talked regularly over the internet, exchanging sexually suggestive messages and intimate pictures. Rama was blindsided when she found out months later that those pictures and conversations had been sent to her relatives’ phones from fake accounts on Facebook and as links to pornographic websites.

Asmita, a 12-grader from Lalitpur, had been talking to Facebook user Sanjiv. The two had never met face to face. At Sanjiv’s request, she had sent him a nude picture of herself, but one picture did not suffice. He began blackmailing Asmita for videos, threatening to leak her picture unless she complied. Her picture ended up on porn sites, which put her under extreme mental stress.

Thirteen-year-old Rabina from Dhankuta was sent a nude picture with her face morphed onto it by someone she had been talking to on Facebook. She was then coerced into sending back similar pictures of herself. Afraid, she did as she was instructed, after which more nude pictures were demanded of her every day.

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Rekha of Sitapaila had responded to a job offer in Canada via Facebook when she was asked to strip naked for an online medical exam, something she found strange, but that she thought might be routine in Canada. She was asked also to show her genitals to the camera. Later, she was told that nude pictures of her would be made public if she did not pay $5,000.

All four women went to the Nepal Police, who tracked down Raju’s address in Sydney, and in Asmita's, Rabina’s and Rekha's cases traced the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the offending Facebook users to Bangladesh, India and Canada respectively. In all four cases the police contacted law enforcement and perpetrators, but failed to get a response. The suspects were never caught.

Extortion, blackmail and illegal sharing of private images and videos on social media as well as the sale of such visual content to porn sites have become more prevalent as the number of Facebook users in Nepal approaches 9 million. The lack of media literacy in the population means most young people are unfamiliar with privacy settings, and naive about sharing personal images. This leaves them vulnerable to sexual predators not just from their immediate environments but from all over the world.

Experts say Nepal’s cybersecurity policies and laws like the Electronic Transaction Act 2007 are not applicable in the context of cyberspace at present. However, Rishiram Tiwari, joint secretary at the Ministry of Information, claims that the draft Information and Technology Bill addresses cyber-related concerns that the Electronic Transaction Act failed to.

For its part, the National Cyber Security Policy 2007 does not clearly define laws or have set guidelines for investigating transnational crimes. According to the Metropolitan Crime Division, almost 20% of cybercrime complaints are transnational, and countries like Nepal are hotbeds for extortion, blackmail and breach of privacy.

“Social Media Operators and Internet Service Providers who are not based in Nepal are not legally obliged to provide the police with any information,’’ says cyberlaw expert Baburam Aryal. “Because the authorities cannot access important details about the crime, they cannot build an ironclad case.”

Police spokesperson DIG Sailesh Thapa Chhetri points out the difficulty of investigating cybercrimes that occur beyond our borders: “The challenge is that we have not been able to coordinate with Interpol due to time constraints and lack of personnel.”

Through such coordination, parties involved in transnational crimes are usually brought under investigation through an international letter of request. But the success of this exercise depends on the diplomatic relationship between countries involved. It is possible to seek the extradition of criminals who operate across borders, but this requires bilateral extradition agreements.

Advocate Aryal says developed countries use international diplomatic networks to address cross-border cybercrime. In response to the transnational nature of crimes involving cyberspace, the Council of Europe agreed on the Budapest Convention in 2001. The treaty aims to combat cyber-related crime through cooperation while recognising the different legal and technological landscapes across countries. The treaty has been ratified by 64 countries, but Japan and Sri Lanka are the only two countries from Asia to have done so.

Advocate Sanjiv Ghimire states that treaties like these will make cyber laws less complex and help the international community follow a common legal policy regarding cybercrime. He says: “It is time for Nepal to take the initiative to either make treaties like these or ratify ones that already exist to protect our citizens.”

(Some names have been changed.) 

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