This article is written by Oruj Aashna, from the University of Calcutta. The article addresses the issue of photo morphing and its subsequent blackmailing. It will set forth the necessary steps one must consider when trapped in such a situation.
Photo/video morphing is a method of changing an image or shape by the seamless transition. The image is changed to something which is not identical to the original image. Sometimes it’s difficult, even to identify any glitch on the morphed image. However, it depends on the software by which the image is morphed. It’s a fantastic technique, primarily used by the animation and film industry to edit, but the technology also comes with a contrary side. It can be a tremendous tool for one, but for another, it’s a tool for an opportunity to harm someone.
Morphing once used by the animation and film industry is so readily available now that anyone who has internet access can use it. It takes just a few clicks to download a morphing application and a moment to deceive someone. Perhaps there is no bar or regulation on the access; it is the intention and purpose determining its boundary.
Morphing images of celebrities is very common, mainly talking about photo and video morphing. There are plenty of cases filed by celebrities every year for such instances. Recently, in actress Remya’s case, a morphed image of the actress was circulated on porn sites and various other social media platforms. The Malayalam actress confronted the situation and complained in the cyber cell against such propagation. The instant case illustrates how one can combat a situation relating to morphed image/video. Whatever the reason persists, personal or otherwise, deceiving the image and blackmailing through it is an offence and comes under cybercrime.
Blackmail always involves threatening to expose something harmful with the goal of getting something in return. If someone threatens to reveal something hostile or humiliating about you in exchange for money or another form of favours, they are blackmailing you. Similarly, If the person possessing a morphed image or image that is superimposing one face to someones else’s body, and subsequently tries to expose the image on the internet or asks for any favour which may cause harm to you (mental and physical) or/and wrongful gain to the person, it’s blackmailing.
Keep a record of conversation as evidence
- Person blackmailing you might have sent you the morphed image or had a conversation in the context of threat. These images or conversations will be supported as evidence. Record the conversation rather than just taking screenshots. In case the offender is blackmailing on a video call, screen record it. For applications like Snapchat, record it using an appropriate recording application or capture a picture of it.
- In case an anonymous person is trying to blackmail you, keep conversations online. Internal data attached to the online message will help find the message’s location more quickly. Additionally, try to make conversation on messaging apps based in India. As per the police authority of the cyber cell police station, they find themselves incapable of resolving the case when the servers of social media sites are based outside India as they are out of the ambit of Indian law. This is to note that it is difficult to track the originator of the message in the case of WhatsApp.
Do not be an easy victim
- Do not engage with the blackmailers as it will backfire all the solutions. The blackmailer may sense himself/herself/themself more potent in the situation, possibly resulting in incensed demands. The blackmailer may also come up with a claim that the accuser was also active in this act and that it was consensual.
- No engagement with the blackmailer also means ‘no negotiation’. Negotiating or giving in to their demands just gives offenders more power – and they are likely to use this power to make even more threats.
File a complaint
- Cybercrimes come under global jurisdiction; it means that one can file a complaint anywhere in India irrespective of your exact location. Reach out to your nearest cyber cell and report information of the blackmail to the authority present there.
- One can also file an FIR in a local police station with a separate cyber cell office. If your application gets rejected, proceed to the Judicial Magistrate in the area where the application is filed.
Online medium to file a complaint
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has launched an online National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal to file a report and track all cybercrime convenience. There are two types of cases filed in the said portal: women-related cases and other crimes (related cybercrimes). The victim will have to submit information such as name, state, platform where the incident occurred, an attached document of evidence to support the allegations, information related to the suspect, etc.
- Even though the portal provides the option ‘reason for the delay in reporting’ if the victim delays in reporting, it’s appropriate if the report is filed in the initial stage of blackmailing.
Involve a lawyer expert in a cyber domain
- One of the primary reasons for involving a cyber lawyer is to prevent morphed images/videos from being published. They can also put a short end to blackmail and threats.
- An experienced lawyer in the cyber division can also help unscrew the identification of an anonymous/unnamed blackmailer, eliminate damaging online content, and establish your case. Finally, they can sue extortionists and online harassers for pecuniary damages for the harm the harasser causes.
Other ways to avail for support or help
If you have any reason to assume your blackmailer is in or from a foreign country, you can contact the International Criminal Police Organization. It is an organization that supports worldwide police cooperation and crime reporting.
Many social media platforms also provide assistance and ways to notify blackmail via their platform. For instance, Instagram’s help page enables users to report the case to the social media authorities. Furthermore, blackmail threats received over email can be reposted on these portals:-
There are online application tools (like Fotoforensics and Photo Police) that help detect the editing details, photoshopped images, or morphed images. This software is developed because the morphing application has made it difficult for an ordinary person to distinguish between the fake and original photo.
Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000
- Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 imposes criminal liability on release or disclosure of any material which is inter alia lascivious or engages to the prurient interests. The punishment on the first sentence is imprisonment up to three years and with a fine of rupees five lakhs, and subsequent convictions to be punished with imprisonment up to five years and fine which may extend up to ten lakh rupees.
- If the offender is a habitual offender, i.e., if the offender tries to morph and harasses again despite action against him/her, the punishment will be doubled.
Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
- According to Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, a book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure, or any other object shall be deemed obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or its effect (is) such as to tend to degrade and corrupt a person.
Section 509 of IPC (Insult to the modesty of a woman)
- Section 509 penalizes abusing the dignity of a woman. This section is frequently used in consonance with other sections of IPC involving sexual assault. As per this section, whoever intends to insult the modesty of any woman by using any word, sound, gesture, or exhibit any object, intentionally that intrudes upon the privacy of such woman is punishable.
- In the case State of Punjab v. Major Singh (1996), it was held that any act done in the presence of a woman that is indicative of sex according to the common notion of mankind is covered under this section. To be more precise in the context of the topic, any message that conveys lascivious or lustful comments upon the body of a girl and circulating the image is covered in the said section. The punishment for the act of damaging the dignity of a woman under this section is imprisonment up to one year, or fine, or both.
Section 499 and 500 IPC (Defamation)
- Defamation is one recourse a victim can take in such a situation. According to Section 499 of IPC, either creating or publishing ostensibly defamatory remarks about a person in the form of words or writing or visible representations that potentially harm a person’s reputation is culpable or punishable. Therefore, if a person is trying to harm someone’s image or reputation, it will be considered an offence and will come under this section.
- The victims can also choose to take support under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 500 of IPC provides the penalty for defamation, which can be simple imprisonment for up to two years with or without a fine.
It is very crucial as a responsible citizen to identify and be aware of what is considered an offence in the eyes of law. If there exists any offence, it is backed by punishment. People panic and take the wrong step because of a lack of awareness. If something is wrong, there is always a solution too. Just because a person has threatened to be silent does not mean you have to. Raising the voice against wrong is not perilous; silence is. If one is getting blackmailed, there are multiple legal options available. Blackmailing is against the law, no matter where you live. The most crucial aspect here is to question the environment and societal conditions that gave rise to such a rigorous act.
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