Cyberstalking: New challenges

Published January 5, 2014
The Ministry of Information and Technology (MoIT) has been working on the Cyber Crimes Bill for two years.  — File Photo
The Ministry of Information and Technology (MoIT) has been working on the Cyber Crimes Bill for two years. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The country is catching up fast with the cyber world, a clue being the way cyber crime is becoming an issue.

Reported misuse of the technology ranges from websites being hacked to forgery and financial fraud. But of the more than 30 registered offences that were committed through the internet, it is cyberstalking that tops the list. More than 80 per cent of all the complaints registered with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) vis-à-vis the internet pertain to this.

Most of the victims are young women facing blackmail, harassment and extortion. And in most cases, those harmed are not just the victims but also their families.“It is becoming a pervasive problem,” said a senior FIA official, pointing out that the reporting ratio is much too low. “Victims don’t know where to report.

Those who do know are afraid that the FIA will make things harder. In other instances, complainants do not open up, making investigations difficult. It is imperative that individuals coming forth cooperate fully because cyberstalking is as much of an offence as any other criminal act.”

Incidents of blackmail and harassment are not limited to social networking sites — mostly Facebook and sometimes Twitter. The FIA has also come across cases where morphed or genuine images, the contact details of individuals or the phone numbers of family members, were uploaded on OLX.com, a popular online marketing website.

“It is outside our purview but during past investigations we have learned that some working women had to quit their jobs [due to cyberstalking],” said the official. “There have been problems between engaged couples, as well as cases where such acts bring disgrace to the neighbourhoods where the victims of cyberstalking live.”

Mostly, it’s men harassing women. But in 5pc of the cyberstalking complaints registered with the FIA, women have been harassing men.

Cyberstalking is mainly an issue with undergrads and in some cases with dropouts. Of the complaints registered with the FIA, 20pc are against teachers (for harassing students) and another 10pc of the incidents happened in the workplace. “It’s done mostly to settle scores,” the official said.

The official suggested that it was imperative that parents monitor their child’s activities on the internet. This can be done by placing the desktop in shared space, where the child or young adult knows that adult supervision is likely. Parents ought to keep an eye on who their children talk to over mobile phones.

“It is important that the possibility of abuse via computers and the internet is taught in schools and colleges, as well as how it can be avoided,” said the official. “It is also necessary for internet users to set privacy settings to the maximum, especially on social networking sites.”

Some college and university teachers argue that students here are taught imported syllabi and that lessons specific to the challenges of Pakistani society are ignored. “It is important that our syllabus touches issues of the land and the problems of the people,” said Tahir Malik, who teaches international relations at the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad.

While FIA sources assert that awareness in academic institutions and students is necessary, the agency also emphasises the need for legislation. Pakistan does not have a specific law to deal with cyber crimes, particularly cyberstalking. In the absence of such a law or ordinance, the FIA cannot touch many issues.

Government offices relied on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, 2007. When it lapsed in November, 2009, they turned to the older Electronics Transaction Ordinance (ETO), 2002, when required. Under the ETO, the highest punishment for cyber crimes is a maximum of seven years in prison.

So far, the FIA has been content with the conviction rate, said the agency’s official. But “because we do not have a law, international internet concerns are not bound to assist to curb incidents of cyber crime in Pakistan,” he pointed out. “We’ve been lucky so far in that they entertain our requests and oblige. But this cannot go on for ever.”

The Ministry of Information and Technology (MoIT) has been working on the Cyber Crimes Bill for two years. “Most of the work on the bill is done,” said Kamran Ali, the MoIT’s Member Legal.

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