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KARACHI: All manner of cybercrimes registered an uptick last year, especially harassment and blackmailing of women. Most of these crimes were committed through Facebook and WhatsApp.

The year also saw pornographic content involving children being produced and disseminated online from within Pakistan, said a report launched on Friday at a hotel.

Titled Pakistan’s Internet Landscape 2018, the report has been formulated by Bytes for All, Pakistan — a human rights organisation and a think tank with a focus on information and communication technologies — and authored by Dawn.com Editor Jahanzaib Haque.

The report, the fourth one since 2013, maps digital trends about citizens’ social, economic and political gains as well as assesses how responsive the government has been to people’s problems and provides an insight as to how the state could improve governance.

It describes Pakistan-China Optical Fibre Cable as potentially the biggest game-changer in terms of internet access in remote areas

According to the report, the overall internet penetration continues to increase in the country; the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority reports a total of 154 million cellular subscribers out of which 62m are 3G/4G subscribers (forming 29.55 per cent of internet penetration).

However, this growing presence in the digital world is marked by a large gender gap (with respect to mobile phone ownership and internet connectivity), urban-rural and socio-economic divide and lack of ‘meaningful (internet) access to remote areas’.

“The country remains extremely low-ranked on multiple international scorecards and in relation to other countries and systematic issues such as suspending cellular networks for security reasons,” it says.

The report describes the Pakistan-China Optical Fibre Cable — a CPEC project, which forms the first land-based communication link between the two countries — as potentially the biggest game-changer in terms of internet access in remote areas.

Laid out across the Gilgit-Baltistan region, the 820km underground cable runs from Rawalpindi to Khunjerab and then continues as a 172km aerial link from Karimabad to Khunjerab.

Cybercrime

Suggesting that the government is not doing enough and that disseminators of hatred and extremism are quite adept at propagating their messages, the report highlights gaps in government capacity and strategy in tackling growing online terrorism/extremism.

Referring to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) data, the report shows that 36 of the 75 Pakistani banned outfits are active on social media and that 90pc of cybercrime victims are women/minor girls. Seventy per cent of the cases involve pornographic content.

“Of the total 831,002 sites blocked in the country, 34,762 are blocked for hosting blasphemous content,” says the report, also carrying a timeline of online blasphemy cases.

Citing the FIA data, it says its cybercrime unit had as of October 2018 conducted 2,295 inquiries, registered 255 cases and made 209 arrests, each an all-time high figure since the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 came into force.

Growing e-commerce

On censorship and the media, the report notes that “the internet and technology landscape in Pakistan is rapidly shrinking and increasingly becoming life-threatening due to wrongly placed priorities and mistaken approaches of the state”.

The report shows that Pakistan has taken positive steps on the fin-tech/online banking and e-commerce front.

Citing the State Bank of Pakistan stats, it says that e-commerce grew from Rs51.8 billion in 2017 to Rs99.3bn last year.

“During 2016-17, Pakistan’s IT exports were $3.3bn, which have jumped to $5bn and are expected to grow to $6bn next year,” it says.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2019