ALMOST two years since the controversial Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act was passed, some of its ramifications with regard to cybercrime investigation are now coming to light. In a recent meeting before the Senate Standing Committee on IT and Telecommunications, the director of the FIA’s cybercrime wing, the investigative authority designated under Peca, revealed that his agency is operating seriously below capacity — it currently has only 10 experts to investigate over 2,600 ongoing cases of reported cybercrimes. Just as troubling is the admission that the rules and procedures by which the FIA is to conduct its work have yet to be established, which may not only lead to potential violations of individual rights, but also make room for acquittals of genuine offenders caused by poor investigative procedures. This is not the first time the FIA has voiced its need for funding and resources to effectively enforce Peca — yet the same government, which so cavalierly rushed the act into force without addressing its many lacunae, apparently lost its motivation once it reached the point of implementation.
The fallout from this has been twofold: that of capacity and mandate. The obvious lack of capacity in human and IT resources means that such crimes against private entities, ie businesses and individuals, are on the rise and virtually unchecked. The FIA acknowledged this too, when it was stated that most complainants, especially women, are reluctant to follow through and cooperate with investigations. Though there have been a handful of breakthroughs in cases of online offences against women and children, it is clear that the agency does not yet engender much confidence among vulnerable victims. Its limited capacity is further strained when legal definitions of cybercrimes are so vague as to beget the impossible task of attempting to police vast swathes of internet usage. Given that its mandate under Peca is stretched beyond reasonable limits, strengthening the cybercrime wing without narrowing the law’s parameters would be an exercise in futility. The corollary of this is what many critics of Peca have warned of: that it could be misused to target innocent people. We have likely witnessed some of this misdirection of the FIA’s efforts already; recall recent moral panics caused by a rash of alleged crimes against national security and religion in recent years, and how many were found baseless upon investigation. Until Peca is reformed, there is no hope of a better outcome.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2018