Sindh CTD steps up monitoring of social media to prevent spread of ‘hatred, militancy’

Updated January 18, 2019

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Officials say move will complement efforts of other LEAs. — File
Officials say move will complement efforts of other LEAs. — File

KARACHI: As the federal government plans a new body to regulate the print, electronic and social media, the police authorities in Sindh have developed a technical team under its anti-terror wing that has started monitoring all digital platforms amid their growing use for “promotion of ideology of hatred, anti-state activism and militancy”, a senior official said on Thursday.

The fresh development from the Sindh police came after a series of steps announced by the federal government and institutions, including Pakistan Telecommuni­cation Authority (PTA) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), where “the infiltration of anti-state elements and promoters of different ideologies which cannot be dubbed as pro-nationalism” have sparked concerns, necessitating immediate and strong measures.

The move by the Sindh police, the official said, was the first of its kind by the law enforcement agency, which had realised the significance of the digital and social media platforms.

Officials say move will complement efforts of other LEAs

“Actually, we have raised a separate technical team of professionals,” said Raja Umer Khattab of the Counter-Terrorism Depart­ment (CTD), which has been tasked with keeping an eye on social and digital media. “One of the tasks of the team includes monitoring social media. They have been trained for that purpose and more measures are being planned for their capacity-building and to make them capable of meeting the challenges.”

When asked about any clash of mandate on the particular subject as the area is already under watch of the FIA’s cybercrime wing, he said that the Sindh police’s plans were not on a collision course with any institution. Instead it would add value to overall efforts of different agencies against “hatred, terrorism, violence and militancy”.

“Initially we are monitoring the trend and getting leads while probing different cases,” said Mr Khattab. “In the course of our operation, if we find anything that falls under the mandate of the FIA or any other agency, we would definitely take them on board. We are already coordinating with every investigation, law enforcement and intelligence agency for better results in different cases.”

Cybercrime reporting centres

The FIA a few months ago allowed establishing of 15 cybercrime reporting centres in the country. Five of the centres will be opened in Punjab, three each in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Balochistan and one each in Islamabad and Gilgit-Baltistan. The decision was taken in accordance with Section 51 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015, which grants the government powers to take all necessary measures for the prevention of cybercrime.

CTD officials said that it was not the first time that the department had taken up monitoring social media as in the past it had kept posted the relevant authorities about its concerns and proposed measures for effective regulation.

“For instance in 2017, the CTD police had prepared a consolidated list of websites, web pages and social media accounts spreading extremism and terrorism,” said another official. “The CTD had also written to the PTA, FIA and other authorities for closing or banning of such websites, web pages and social media accounts to foil designs of the banned militant organisations. The CTD in fact had identified 25 such websites, which were involved in spreading religious and ethnic extremism and terrorism.”

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019