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ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) wants enhanced powers to deal with cybercrime cases, telling a Senate body on Wednesday that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) is creating hurdles in this regard.

“Unlike before, we need to obtain warrants from designated courts before taking any action, whether it is making arrests or seizing computers. This might be okay in some cases but in others, the process is time-consuming and causes delays in investigation,” the deputy director in charge of the FIA Cyber Crime Wing in Islamabad, M. Salman Khan, told the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat.

The official urged the committee, which had met for a briefing on punishments fixed by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) against ‘derogatory comments’ spread through social media, to revisit Peca with a view to amending it to give the investigation agency more powers.

Since its conception, and even after amendments were made to the first draft, Peca has been criticised by digital rights groups for being too sweeping in nature. They have also raised doubts about its long-term efficacy.

Claims the law acts as a hindrance by delaying action

“We need deterrence against objectionable content posted on social media websites,” Mr Khan said. “Deterrence will create awareness.”

The meeting was informed that since 2012, thousands of websites and URLs have been blocked having been deemed offensive or containing objectionable material.

More than 768,264 URLs containing pornographic material, 31,963 URLs with ‘blasphemous’ content, 10,196 proxy websites, 4,799 ‘anti-state’ websites, 3,719 ‘anti-judiciary’ websites and some 1,00 sectarian and hate-speech sites, besides 850 defamatory sites, have been blocked in the country.

Mr Khan informed the committee that Peca has 28 sections in all; bail cannot be obtained for only three offences identified here, including child pornography and cyber-terrorism. In terms of

the remaining 25 offences, the accused person can under the law in its current form obtain bail before arrest.

“Most complaints are related to defamation,” he told the committee.

Assuring the FIA of support, the chairman of the Senate committee, Senator Mohammad Talha Mahmood directed both the FIA and PTA to prepare proposals regarding changes to the cybercrime law to tighten prosecution.

“Both organisations are facing problems in carrying out their duties,” said Mr Mahmood. “If necessary, the proposals will be discussed both in the Senate and the National Assembly as required to make amendments to Peca.”

Committee members agreed with Mr Mahmood when he suggested an increase in offensive material being posted on social media websites. The latter added that he personally had been a victim of defamation more than once.

“It is a very bad feeling,” he said. “Entire households have been affected. People should not suffer while others post derogatory content on the internet and get away. This [enhancing the FIA’s powers] will be a huge service to the nation.”

He directed the FIA to register an FIR immediately after ascertaining that a crime had been committed, claiming that a high number of FIRs would create deterrence amongst internet users in terms of posting content online that was deemed by the state to be objectionable.

According to the director general of Internet Policy and Web Analysis at the PTA, Nisar Ahmed, the regulatory body had started a short messaging service (SMS) through mobile networks and published newspaper advertisements to provide guidelines for social media users on the suitability of content.

“Simply blocking online content is not the solution,” said the official, pointing out loopholes in the existing cybercrime law that could potentially be exploited.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018