It was in 2001, my elder daughter was about seven years old, I had been to the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia and from my savings I had purchased a Personal Computer, a printer and a scanner and added a basic mobile phone to my arsenal. However, the full dimensions of the scope of ITC (Information Technology Convergence) had still not dawned upon us.
My wife had to send some message to her parents – some documents. We got it ‘xeroxed’ and then sent the house-maid to the post office. Our daughter insisted on accompanying her – “It would be a learning for her too”, we thought. When she returned, she literally complained “Papa, didi ne woh letter RED-DUSTBIN mein daal diya” (Papa, didi has thrown the letter into the RED-DUSTBIN). It took time for us to explain to her the concept of POST BOX and POST-OFFICE. The kid hadn’t seen either.
Advent of Mobile Phones and ITC:
Though mobile phones were costly and the re-charges costlier still (even incoming calls were charged), our family was using them more and even the PC to send emails. Our 6-7 years old kid hadn’t seen a post office. Things had changed right beneath our noses and we were unaware. This change hustled at break-neck speed over the next 8-10 years and exponentially in the last 10. What we could have never even imagined, had started happening. However, this created a new divide in the society – the DIGITALLY AWARE and the DIGITALLY UNAWARE or illiterate if one would call them.
Advancements in communications and technology slowly started transforming our lives – both for the good and also for the worse. There is no denying the fact that technology has made our lives better in most areas.
However, our ability to exploit and use the technological advancements to our betterment depends on a new set of skills and willingness to learn. The more we are open to new ideas and innovations, the better adapted we are. The better adapted we are, the better are our chances of survival and success on the world. Developments in ITC have opened a new world of opportunities. In numerous arenas, it has created a parallel world.
New World of Opportunities:
This parallel world has spurred employment, development, economy, integrated communities and people, brought businesses together, brought about faster, vaster learning among various people, brought together people from a cross-section of society across age groups, gender, nationality, geographical borders and even to some extent even literacy barriers. The advantages of the ITC are of humongous proportions – it has facilitated travel, facilitated banking and businesses, facilitated almost seem less and border-less exchange of ideas and information and concepts. ITC interface has propelled tourism because it has enabled unhindered and quality access to places of tourism and hospitality across the world. Big businesses in one part of the globe can compete with others in any other part of the world – almost un-inhibited.
Newer business models have evolved which hitherto fore did not exist earlier. Mega businesses like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Myntra, or even Alibaba offer multi-brand retail and shopping experience. Literally thousands of brands and numerous variants of goods are available for exploration at the click of a button. One can either buy online or shortlist things online – not confined in choice by having to visit or travel from one shop to another searching for a choice which suits you.
Similarly, you can make bookings in hotels or flights or trains or even buses at the click of a button. Platforms and literally hundreds of others have facilitated travel. You do not have to wait for the next morning or next working day either to plan your travel to a ‘tour operator’ or ‘agent’ or ‘travel agent’. You can do this on any holiday or even in the dead of the night. Even a child can do it. You only need a mobile phone (preferably a smartphone), an internet connection and an “app” or an application. If you don’t have an “app”, you can do it through a website or a portal.
Again, remember when people of my age were students – staying in hostels or PG accommodations and were required to pay admission fees, tuition fees or purchase books or even return home for vacations. Life was pretty irksome and uneasy. One had to plan for exigencies in advance – but exigencies and emergencies chose their own timings. Life was difficult.
Calling parents or friends or relatives, either in times of need or for socialising was a luxury. A “TRUNK CALL” as it was called then was normal (3 Minutes), then extended by 3 minutes, an urgent call would get connected in two-hours and a lighting call in about 15-30 minutes. Before the call would get connected, we would literally get down the “TALKING POINTS” on a paper to rattle-off the important things first.
Yes, life was tough. Much tougher than what one can now imagine. I remember either having to go queue or spend 100 rupees for a trunk call. Then came the STD Calls and PCO/STD booths which revolutionized telephony. When I landed in Nagaland, STD call rates at primetime (day-time) was 85 rupees per minute and our salary, meagrely, 4500 p.m. A five-minute call to parents or in-laws or wife/kids was enough to seriously impact the monthly budget.
Things have changed – changed for the better.
The positive changes are welcome and have made life comfortable. However, the changes have also brought in their wake, a fair share of negative and un-intended consequences. The way people have enjoyed the benefits of innovation and development, a parallel breed of unscrupulous elements have also sensed an opportunity to ingratiate themselves by misusing, abusing or using this ITC interface to the detriment of others. The others can be individuals or groups or even businesses or even countries and nations.
The New World of Opportunities and Crime:
A parallel world of crime and criminal acts have surfaced. These are called cyber-crimes or cyber enabled crimes or cyber- facilitated crimes.
Succinctly put – every form of traditional crime or traditionally committed crime, now has its cyber counterfeit or at least a ‘cyber-trace’.
Although it is impossible to list-out all kinds of cyber-crimes, I will attempt to go through some basics of the crimes, their law-enforcement interface, and how the public can either avoid them or help solve them - Partnership is the key.
There are ordinary crimes, which were committed earlier and are still being committed. However, most traditional crimes now have an ITC-interface, or at least an ITC-trace. Mobile phones, tablets, personal computers and laptops, and in some cases even fitness-devices have become an integral part of our bodies – necessities rather than luxury. These devices can be used to aid or assist in conspiracies or to commit crimes per se or are merely present on our bodies as essential organs. In all these broad possibilities the ITC-devices become important.
Even in the world of ITC, we have graduated – from times when mobile phones were a luxury (data was premium-class luxury) and when mobile phones were not data-enabled and when incoming calls used to get charged at exorbitant rates to just the reverse – voice-calls are minimum and data-based calls are normal – whether on Whatsapp or Signal or Telegram or messenger or other platforms where except for data-topups all other services are free within the data limits. In most offices and business establishments, faxes have become virtually redundant (although some still use them), having been replaced by emails and messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Signal, Telegram, Allo etc; from times where faxes would have to be sent to individual numbers by connecting to them individually to mass emails to all recipients or recipient-lists at the mere click of the mouse or keyboard etc. Naturally, things have become easier and convenient.
On a positive side, these developments have enabled a number of facilities and services which were not possible earlier. Online medical transcription; online medical consultation; online transfer and sharing of medical records and data; online jobs and job-opportunities have been created; online banking; online booking of tickets and hotels etc.; online collaboration for major projects and their real-time monitoring; online safety and security of premises – CCTVs/lasers etc; geo-fencing of premises; online databases of property, individuals, businesses etc.; online meetings, seminars, conferences etc. A whole new world of endless possibilities has been created and is functioning – in fact a lot of it has become an integral part of our lives – almost inseparable from our physical selves. These developments and many more based on maps and location services have ‘robotised us. We can simply share our location-based GPS with others, either to seek assistance or render it.
Books which were available only on paper are now available in a digital, soft copy form. While some of these books are available for free - either due to charity or by way of piracy, some are available for download at a price.
However, all these developments have also opened-up a whole new world of crime. All these facets which have made our lives comfortable have also made us more vulnerable. Everything which has a technology interface also leaves us vulnerable - either by our mistakes or at the hands of pranksters or worse at the hands of unscrupulous elements called criminals. A number of such vulnerabilities are predominantly human while others are predominantly technological. It is the latter which essentially qualify as ‘cyber-crimes’.
Let us commence this journey of an indoctrination into the world of cyber enabled crimes.
(The views expressed are personal)