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Online NGO helps Cyber victims
By Resmi Jaimon

Even as Indian private sector IT, BPO and Telecom firms have made the country a digital super power, the Government infrastructure lags behind.  Except for a handful of States, Indian police do not have the skills and budgets to take on cyber crime. Most victims of cyber crime, especially women, find themselves helpless. NGO CCVC steps in to offer assistance to such victims.

Ms. Debarati Halder and her husband, Dr. K. Jaishankar have set up an online NGO -  Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (CCVC) -  to provide advice and assistance to people who fall victim to internet crimes. Debarati, who works as a cyber crime counselor and cyber law specialist, spoke to Techgoss about all that is involved in running such a NGO 


Techgoss (TG): Tell us about yourself and your education.
Debarati Halder (DH): By profession, I am an Advocate. I received my LL.B degree from the University of Calcutta, ML degree from University of Madras and presently pursuing PhD at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) on cyber crime and laws. Also, I am a full time cyber crime victim counselor and consultant through our NGO ‘Centre for Cyber Victim Counseling’ (CCVC) (cybervictims.org), where I am also the Managing Director.


TG: How did you become a cyber crime counselor and cyber law specialist?
DH: It all started with an international project on cyber bullying, where I was selected as Research Assistant (legal). I developed an interest on how many misuse cyber spaces to harass others and how crimes are occurring in the cyber space. Out of my interest, I studied more on cyber laws and trends of cyber crimes and I joined as an internet safety advocate in “Working to Halt Online Abuse” (WHOA), an American volunteer organization which as its name suggests works to help cyber stalking victims.

I started writing articles on cyber crime, cyber laws, and issues of women victims for popular magazines as well as peer reviewed scholarly journals. Also I started getting mails from victims of cyber crimes from within our country for Counselling and in 2009; I co-founded an NGO “Centre for Cyber Victim Counseling”, where I give legal counseling to the victims who contact us by online form and email. I also maintain regular blogs as part of our organization’s activity. My present PhD research work gives me a huge opportunity to explore the various laws related to cyber crime. I owe my understanding of the nature of the crime and how to help the victim to my ongoing research on this subject. 


TG: What are the challenges you face in running an NGO?
DH: The initial challenge is funding. As of now, our NGO is self-funded and we maintain the website and the office. We are also planning to seek funding from funding agencies to overcome this challenge. As we lack funding we are not able to involve in vigorous offline campaign against cyber crime. Shortly, we will involve in campaign against cyber crimes at schools and colleges.


TG: How adventurous is it in working solely in a field like cyber crime?
DH:  Practically, I enjoy working all by myself. I feel this is more advantageous than working in a group since my work is partly research based. My time is mine, I don’t have to think about finishing lines set by some one else and I have independence in thinking. This is a great learning process, which I enjoy thoroughly. However, there are certainly some hardships in working as a solo worker.

For example, I do not take any leave basically. My work is through Internet and my work goes with me wherever I go. However, I still do not feel disadvantaged as I manage my time quite well. Secondly, there may arise some problems when on vacation if I have to stay without Internet connection for more than three days. Works pile up.
 

TG: What are the challenges you face as a cyber crime counsellor?
DH: The challenge is obviously from the cyber criminals, who may try to commit some crimes against the cyber crime expert-investigator etc like hacking, online anonymous defamation, revealing your privacy to others etc. Once the cyber crime counsellor starts working for a victim, automatically he\she becomes a target for the actual criminal.  Since I am a woman, don’t be surprised if one day you get to see my picture and profile in some adult entertainment site.

Another challenge comes from jealous, known and unknown rivals. I had received couple of emails/messages etc that questioned my credentials as a cyber crime-law expert. Tackling this challenge is also not that easier.


TG: How did you tackle the issue when you received emails/messages, which questioned your credentials as a cyber crime-law expert?
DH: I try to maintain my calm, ignore those mails and do not answer them. Time and experience have taught me how to be stronger. Whenever I receive any such mails/messages etc I compare my situation with those who have come to me for help. Compared to them, I have nothing to loose, no pain to gain and this gives me enough strength to ignore such messages. However, note that I do take criticisms seriously as I consider them as my rectifying scales.  


TG: What kind of people indulges in cyber crimes? What kind of crimes they do commit the most?
DH: Now that internet is accessible by a teenager or even younger people, I have to say that any one can be indulged in cyber crime from the age group of 13 to 60, as long as their enthusiasm motivates them. Qualification could vary from a school student to even a hi-fi businessman, software technologist, teachers, doctors and even housewives who are well versed with Internet. Remember, the Megan Meier case where a young teenager committed suicide due to cyber bullying? The bully was actually a gadget freaky mother of another teenager.

I have seen the most happening crimes are ‘phishing’, ‘identity theft’, pornography and obscenity (which are mostly done by male internet users), threatening, verbal abuse, blackmailing (done by male as well as female internet users, though female participants are less than males), bullying, defamations (again male as well as female participants).


TG: Share with us who are the most targeted group in the cyber world.
DH: It is obviously women and children and also ‘ignorant’ men … I would prefer to say in that order.


TG: Tell us about your husband, who plays a vital role in your endeavors.
DH: My husband, Dr. K. Jaishankar, the co-founder and Executive Director of CCVC, is at present the Senior Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. He is a renowned cyber criminologist and Editor-in-Chief of two international peer reviewed journals, International journal of Cyber Criminology and International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences. He was awarded the prestigious commonwealth fellowship by Commonwealth scholarship Commission, UK (2009-10), tenable at University of Leeds where he involved in research work on Victims of cyber crimes.


TG: What kind of support your husband gives you in running the NGO?
DH: Besides being the executive director of our organization, he is the main resource person I can bank upon. He supports me tremendously by motivating to excel in my job. He created and maintains the website of the organization, brought international personalities to our advisory board and involves in vigorous marketing of our organization to like minded organizations and made many international organizations our knowledge partners.


TG: Tell us about the book you are currently writing.
DH: This book is on cyber crime against women written from an international perspective. It is going to be published by the end of this year. This book would be a prime book for individuals from all walks of life who use Internet.

 
TG: Suggest appropriate measures to control and prevent cyber victimization.
DH:

a)  Do not try to experiment with your internet skills for mischievous purposes;
b) Always use filter for unwanted mails/phishing mails/spams etc;
c). You must have anti-virus protective devices;
d)  Do not click on suspicious links;
e)  Do not chat with unknown people;
f)  Avoid exhibiting too much personal information;
g) Do not hesitate to report crimes.
h) Always log off properly when using public computers.

TG: How essential is to conduct cyber safety / awareness training programmes in schools, colleges and for corporate? If you have conducted any such, share how it helped them and their feedback.
DH: It is very much essential as this may spread the awareness among individuals right from the grassroots level to high level corporate who may not be aware of cyber ethics. We are planning to conduct programmes in this year to schools, colleges and corporates. We will also partner with like-minded organizations in such programmes.


(6/14/2010)
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