Footprints: Muddled fight against cyber crime

Published January 20, 2015
.—Reuters/File
.—Reuters/File

SOON after the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Karachi received a complaint from an official of the Binoria town madressah. The official complained that the madressah’s name was being misused through a fake account on the social networking site Facebook, which was claiming that the seminary condoned the attack on schoolchildren.

A complaint was also received from Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, after one of the fake Twitter accounts in his name started announcing holidays across Sindh and “trolling” an ethnic community. The CM asked the FIA’s cybercrime wing to make it clear that he does not even have a Twitter account.

Also read: The fake world of Facebook

These high-profile complaints are among the many that get reported to the cybercrime wing established in 2007 under the National Response Centre for cybercrime. 

FIA deputy director Mir Mazhar Jabbar says that they are “trying to resolve the matter”. At the same time, he acknowledges that they “don’t have the required manpower and capacity to deal with some of the cybercrimes”. The result is that “criminals are one step ahead of the agencies working to contain their activities”.

Know more: Cyber Crime: what you need to know

This was evident when the cybercrime wing’s own website was hacked in 2010, but Jabbar says that was quickly “brought under control”.

Throughout the day, many people come and leave the premises of the cybercrime wing. With various files waiting to be signed and a staff member sitting quietly next to him, Jabbar discusses some of the recent cases that the organisation had to deal with, including online sexual harassment.

“Barring a few cases where men were intimidated, resulting in arrests, complaints of online harassment of women have remained consistent,” he says. 

According to Jabbar, “women face blackmail, threats of personal pictures being leaked online, mostly by men they knew at some point, and fake accounts.”

“In 2014, by mid-May 37 cases of online fraud, fake email and Facebook accounts, and harassment had been reported to the cybercrime wing. The majority of the complainants were women in their early 20s.” However, not a single one of these women followed their case till the end. 

The reason, Jabbar says, is the fear of being stigmatised. He gives the example of an anchorperson on a television channel who was being harassed online and who, after the FIA had “done all the legwork”, dropped the case.

“So you can understand what a woman who’s not as independent as the anchorperson will have to go through to pursue such cases.” 

Another issue, Jabbar feels, is the lack of proper laws to address such cases. 

A report by Bytes for All, a human rights organisation focusing on information and communication technologies, points out that technology can easily be used to harm and attack women. Speaking about the report, titled ‘Technology-driven violence against women’, and the existing laws in Pakistan, country director for Bytes for All Shahzad Ahmad says that making law enforcers understand cyber laws is the topmost issue.

“We recently found out that the cybercrime law is being moved in parliament under the National Action Plan, which was drafted in the wake of the Peshawar school attack. But looking at cyber laws through a security angle would be predatory towards the fundamental rights of the people,” he argues. 

Ahmad points out that the blasphemy law, national security and war on terror are some of the pretexts under which the internet has been blocked. At the same time, he says, “despite blocking pornographic websites for a year and a half, Pakistan continues to be among the top porn-searching countries on Google search.”

This, he says, is the result of policymakers not understanding how the internet works. 

Ahmad argues that introducing more laws would further complicate an already complex situation. “The existing laws are enough to work out these cases,” he says. The report, ‘Technology-driven violence against women’, also states that the Pakistan Penal Code “has several propositions that can be extended to the internet to cover online harassment and abuse against women such as Section 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), Section 507 (criminal intimidation through anonymous communication), Section 509 (word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and Section 384 (punishment for extortion).”

Meanwhile, Jabbar says that while they are willing to put in the effort to counter cybercrime, issues such as lack of manpower and equipment continue to hamper their work. “We currently have three technical people and three others who work in the field and collect data. Also, there are certain cases where we can’t take an assertive role because they fall out of our ambit. For instance, the blasphemy law. It will remain an issue until the state backs us,” he says, resting his hands over a file waiting to be signed.

Published in Dawn January 20th , 2015

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