The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has asked the Supreme Court to authorise it to investigate and prosecute rape videos being shared on the Internet and online messaging platforms, reports DailyMail. The CBI reply comes after a PIL was filed that demanded an agency to have pan-Indian jurisdiction to probe online sexual assault cases.

The CBI mentions that, it is “imperative to have a central institutional mechanism to address cases related to sexual violence against women and children circulated through the Internet”, and that the agency is willing to take on this responsibility. The court will make a decision on the affidavit next Monday.

Essentially, the PIL and CBI are asking for national jurisdiction to deal with online sexual crimes, which makes sense. Currently, as per the PIL, if a rape video is shot in say Bihar, and shared with users in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra police is unable to take action on it even if a complaint is lodged, as local police do not have jurisdiction in other states. This is true not only for sexual assault cases, but also cases of cyberbullying and other online crimes. However, the CBI can investigate cases across the country, on the order of the Supreme Court or a High Court (pdf).

Slow in dealing with online crime:

The Government of India had said last year that it would setup a ‘Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre’ (I-4C), for monitoring and capacity building against cyber crimes, as well as help law enforcement agencies in curbing these crimes. The agency would monitor offences such as child pornography, cyber bullying and development of forensic cyber labs and link it with state police through the Crime and Criminal Tracking and Network System (CCTNS). However, this agency is yet to get off the rails (pdf).

A similar project, the National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC), which received in-principal approval in 2013, is yet to get off the ground as well. Note that India has no shortage of cyber security agencies, however, these focus on national security, economic offences, security of national databases like Aadhaar and gauging and monitoring public opinions, and none exist for dealing with online/offline crimes like cyber bullying, or sexual assault, across states. While handing over online crime to a national investigative agency like the CBI can be a temporary solution, it is no substitute for local police co-ordination across states, which will become increasingly imperative as more of India’s unconnected population comes online.