Control of Deviant Behavior in Cyber Space using Criminal Law: a critical and comparative study with special reference to India.

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Written by: Khushi Gupta

Control of Deviant Behavior in Cyber Space using Criminal Law


On the historical date of 15th August 1995, Internet services were launched in India for the very first time. Since the advent of the internet, the sector has seen immense growth, possibly the largest growth in any sector. Just in a period of five years (2002-2007), the speed of Internet services increased a thousandfold, taking it to a record 56MB from the earlier speed of 56kb. India today stands as the second-largest user of Internet services, but this growth has not been one-dimensional. Just in 2017, India lost almost 18billion dollars to cybercrime. In 2019, a total of 44.5 thousand cybercrimes were booked, while several remain unreported the definition of cybercrime, however, is incapable of being able to capture the threat that lurks in the online space. This is where, the term ‘Deviant Behavior’ comes in, several deviations from social norms that cannot be considered crimes under the defined laws are equally and sometimes more harmful to the unaware public online.

International research and concerns

Sociology has been greatly involved in trying to understand the need or/and causes of such deviant behaviors in cyberspace. In the case of digital piracy, which is engaging in making illegal copies of original works or even downloading and using such works, low self-control and impulsive need to have something, compels the person to find illegal ways to attain it, this social learning theory as it is called came from Higgins, Marcum, and Wolfe in 2008. Another important theory was the self-control theory or the general theory of crime by Gottfredson and Hirschi in 1990. The most widely used theory of criminology has been used for deviant behavior in cyberspaces as well, thus concluding that the online deviancy in behavior does not fall far from actual crimes in society.

The department of sociology of Oksana University conducted rigorous research and concluded the main activities that come under deviant behavior in cyberspace, are Cybercrime, software piracy, illegal downloading, hacking, and cyberbullying among others, The research said that such deviancy has become a part of our daily lives.

In the USA, the most serious threat is leaking sensitive information of individuals known as data breaches which were recorded to be 662 in 2010 and have significantly grown to 156 million in 2020.

What Indian law says?

Through a set of mostly overlapping laws in the Indian Penal Code and Information Technology Act of 2000, the legislature has tried to limit the potential of cybercrimes by creating a fear of penalization. Sections 43 and 66 of the IT Act penalize activities such as computer network, data theft, introducing and spreading viruses through computer networks, damaging computers, etc. with imprisonment for three years or/and a fine of above five lakh rupees.

Section 378 of the IPC also includes theft of ‘data’ in its general definition of theft, with the punishment of imprisonment of three years. Section 424 relating to the dishonest intention of IPC also included data theft and implies imprisonment for two years.

Section 66B of the IT Act is identical in its wording to section 411 of IPC, they penalize dishonestly receiving any stolen computer resource or communication device and both give three years of imprisonment with the IT Act also giving a fine of one lakh rupees.

Lastly, sections 292 and 294 of the IPC are also applicable for offenses under sections 67, 67A, and 67B of the IT Act penalize the selling, distribution, public exhibition or circulation or possession of any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object with a maximum imprisonment of five years and fine of 5000 rupees.

The IT Act is far more coherent in defining cyberspace crimes, as it was made with that sole purpose. There are some offenses limited to this act only, and they do not appear in the IPC, such as section 43(h) which would penalize your neighbor for making you pay for his services!

Judicial trends on cyberspace’s deviant behavior

Whenever we talk about the IT Act there is a case that cannot be left behind, it is the Shreya Singhal Case apart from the repealing of section 66A of the IT Act, this case also led the court to conclude that cybercrimes cannot be left with a description that is not appropriately defined. However this has become a theme for the whole of our constitution since the judgment of the Maneka Gandhi Case, it holds much more important when it comes to cybercrimes. The public trots on thin lines and what may amount to a crime is just a click away, which makes this a sensitive area to not openly tread upon.

How much can laws help?

Ever since the IT Act has come into being, it has been a constant source of concern for people who have been worried about the law infringing on their freedom of speech and expression. The lack of a proper distinction between the two has also led to overlooking some deviant behavior and at the same time, infringement of freedom of people who are simply acting on their right.

Section 66A of the IT Act was actually an important section to control deviant behavior on various online platforms, it was widely debated to be valid under the garb of reasonable restrictions mentioned in the constitution of India (Article 19(2)). But, the section had to be removed with growing concerns of arbitrariness and uncertainty in the definition. This created a void in controlling online behavior which became abusive, intolerant, and harmful to people it was pointed at. Several legislatures launched for this purpose have and still are a constant source of debates.

Lack of consensus on the laws has made their application difficult and has resulted in a load on the judiciary with a plethora of pending cases under the IT Act. The line between freedom and restriction in terms of online activities has to be drawn soon because there is no controlling deviant behavior if the definition changes with every case. 


We have seen the deviant behavior in cyberspace that is a constant source of concern for us. The international community also hosts a number of concerns in regard to this and has conducted a number of researches to study the sociological aspects of what drives such deviant behavior. There also exists a sundry of Indian Laws to tackle the problem that comes with the internet and some limited judicial trends that have been central to the issue of speech rights and internet restrictions. We have also seen how this existence of incoherency has left gaps in the application of cyber laws, leaving the country vulnerable to deviant behavior that has been largely left untackled.

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