In perhaps the first such case reported in Mumbai, a 37-year-old woman has filed a complaint, claiming that she is being stalked and spied upon by an unknown individual using her cellphone and computer. The woman, a resident of central Mumbai, had first approached Advocate Pankaj Bafna in March over the matter. According to her complaint, it all began in June 2012, with innocuous messages sent to her via WhatsApp, relating to posts on her Facebook page.
“Say if I had posted on Facebook about getting a new haircut, I would immediately receive an image on WhatsApp from a friend of a woman getting a haircut. Or if I was drinking coffee at a cafe, I’d receive an image of a coffee cup and the words ‘will you have coffee with me?” said the woman, requesting anonymity.
She added that she had initially treated the messages as pranks. In January 2013, however, she allegedly received a text message, congratulating her for a good office presentation while was in the middle of one, she was shaken. “I confronted the person who had sent the message but he denied having sent it. But the messages stopped for some time,” she claimed.
She recalls a message she had received in mid 2014 when she was alone in her office. “My palms were sweating and I wiped them with tissue paper,” she said. No sooner had she put the tissues away, that her phone beeped. The message said that using tissues is good. “That’s when I realised that someone is spying on me,” she said.
Analysing the content and the pattern of the messages she had received, the woman said that none of them directly referred to her activities. “The messages indirectly hinted to what I was doing at the time in a way that would make sense only to me. If someone else looked at my Facebook wall or WhatsApp messages, it would make no sense to them,” she said.
With her family insisting that she was on the receiving end of practical jokes, she was dissuaded from approaching the police. As time wore on, the harassment allegedly spread to other social networks where she had accounts.
In one instance, she claimed to have received unprompted messages on a matrimonial website from men with names of those she had interviewed earlier for a position in her organisation.
This year, after her phone began to ring each time she stepped into a bathroom either at home or at work, the woman was convinced she was being spied upon. Her efforts to make her family and friends take her seriously did not succeed, and she said she contemplated suicide. “I began looking for a building to jump off from,” she said.
Eventually, she was referred to Bafna by a friend and he took her case. A forensic examination of her phone and computer showed that the gadgets had been infected by malware, said Bafna. “Malware can spread any time you click on a suspicious link. Any person could be spying on her using malware. It would enable the perpetrator to watch her every move,” he said.
The woman, who works for an IT company, is hesitant to hand over a list of suspects to the police. “There are a few people who I think may be behind this but I do not have any evidence. This is systematic torture either to turn a person mad or to make them end their life. And this kind of spying happens only at national security levels. I am just a normal working girl in Mumbai,” she said.
In the week since she lodged a police complaint, she has relinquished her gadgets and is off the social media. The ordeal, she said, made it difficult for her to trust anyone or have a normal life. “I am not able to have a personal relationship. I am single because I am not allowed to date anyone,” she said.
On the basis of Bafna’s complaint on her behalf, an FIR was lodged last Friday at Bhoiwada police station against unidentified individuals under the Information Technology Act for tampering with a computer, harassment on social media, theft of confidential data, identity theft, impersonation, transmitting obscene material and cyber stalking, the police said.
Dattatray Patil, senior inspector, Bhoiwada police station, said that the woman’s statement had been recorded and that the police are awaiting reports of her phone and computer from forensic experts.