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SC judge voices concern over online harassment

SC judge voices concern over online harassment
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Says deepfake tech raises privacy invasion alarms

New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Justice Hima Kohli on Saturday voiced her concern over the rising trend of sexual harassment through social media and said the emergence of deepfake technology is ground-breaking but it also raises alarms regarding privacy invasion, security risks and propagation of misinformation.

Speaking at a function on the topic of harassment and discrimination, Justice Kohli said that in the contemporary digital landscape, the meteoric rise of social media has not only transformed the way people communicate but has also reshaped the contours of harassment, particularly gender-based power abuses.

“In parallel, the emergence of deepfake technology, a type of artificial intelligence, is a cause of deep concern. Its potential to create highly realistic content easily is ground-breaking in the realm of entertainment but it also raises alarms regarding privacy invasion, security risks and propagation of misinformation,” she said.

Justice Kohli said the indistinguishable nature of deepfakes from reality poses a profound challenge to the authenticity of information and the sanctity of personal identity.

“The greatest danger posed by deepfakes is their ability to spread false information that appears to come from trusted sources,” she said.

She said that this paradigm shift, further accelerated by the global move towards remote working, has blurred the once-clear boundaries between professional and personal spaces.

“Harassment, once primarily a concern within the physical confines of office spaces and workplace, now seeps into the virtual arenas where our professional and personal lives intersect and interact,” she said in the programme.

Justice Kohli said that despite its advancements and conveniences, the digital era has also introduced distinct vulnerabilities.

“Harassment within these virtual environments is unbound by physical barriers or conventional working hours, creating opportunities for it to manifest at any time and anywhere, online. The inherent features of digital platforms including their anonymity, easy access, and rapid spread of information magnify the severity and reach of such harassment,” she said.

Warning about the impact, Justice Kohli said that in this realm of social media, harmful content can swiftly multiply and snowball, complicating efforts to mitigate and address its consequences.

She said that compounding this issue is the often invisible nature of virtual harassment as it can be equally, if not more, damaging than its offline counterpart.

“It fosters an environment where faceless perpetrators can act with worrying impunity. In contrast, victims may experience a heightened sense of isolation and helplessness. They are often left grappling with the challenges of securing support in a space where evidence is transient and accountability often murky,” she said.

Justice Kohli said the multi-faceted challenges of online harassment necessitate a deep understanding of digital platforms as both empowering tools and potential vehicles for abuse.

“The abuse includes blackmailing, ruining a person’s reputations or simply cyberbullying. To address these issues, a holistic approach is required, involving collaboration between policymakers, social media entities, employers and users. This strategy should focus on creating safe online environments, promoting digital literacy, fostering respectful interactions, and providing robust support for the victims,” she said.

She added the goal is not just to react to the changing landscape of harassment, but to actively create a digital world that is secure, safe and inclusive.

“In view of these technological advances, the urgent need to enhance and expand legal frameworks such as the PoSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act) gains importance. It is essential to adapt legal structures to effectively address harassment in the digital and online spaces, ensuring that they keep pace with the rapid technological advancement,” she said, adding that this legal evolution is significant for protecting the rights and dignity of an individual in an increasingly digital world.

Justice Kohli further said that the gender-based violence, especially violence against women, is endemic be it at home, or the workplace and are often a hallmark of conflict settings and humanitarian crises.

“Despite India’s commitment to women’s rights through various legislations, policies and programmes over the past 70 years, women continue to face gender-based discrimination; they are systematically hindered from full participation in the economic, social, civic and political spheres. They encounter persistent structural barriers to equality,” she said.

Justice Kohli pointed out that women’s paid and unpaid contributions, critical to the global economy, are often undervalued and conveniently overlooked.

“Further, women’s representation in decision-making roles is starkly low and they are frequently confronted with barriers in their professional lives attributable purely to their gender,” she said.

Press Trust of India

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