KARACHI: With growing use of technology and spread of smartphones and gadgets, the number of complaints pertaining to cybercrimes the Federal Investigation Agency received from all over the country during 2021 crossed 100,000 mark, it has emerged.

“We have received a total of 102,356 complaints from Jan 1, 2021 to Dec 31, 2021,” FIA director general Dr Sanaullah Abbasi told Dawn. “In 23 per cent of the complaints, Facebook was used as a medium,” he said.

“The rise in cybercrime reporting reflects people’s confidence in law enforcement... FIA initiated an awakening campaign for people and encouraged them to report [the cases],” he said.

He said not only did a common man approach the FIA but also other law enforcement agencies in the country because it was the only legitimate agency to investigate cybercrimes and to interact with international law enforcement.

The average number of complaints received per month has doubled in just four years

Digital rights activist Nighat Dad agreed that the FIA’s cybercrime wings mounted efforts to reach out to people increasingly in the last two years. However, she felt this doesn’t necessarily show that people have more confidence in the agency.

“I guess internet penetration as well as awareness [about cybercrimes] have increased and now people know about [existence of] cybercrime wings in different cities. The number of cybercrime wings has been increased over the last one year and this is also one of the reasons behind rising number of complaints,” she said.

Not every complaint is regarded as a criminal case. The FIA first verifies each and every complaint and initiates an inquiry after verification. The inquiries translate into criminal cases if cognisable offence is made.

Of the total 102,356 complaints made last year, 80,641 went into verification and 15,932 of them passed the criteria for initiating inquiries. A total of 1,202 cases were registered under relevant sections of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and over 1,300 suspects were arrested.

According to official data, 32pc of the complaints in 2021 were reported by students, while 25pc of them pertained to financial crimes.

Among the categories of cases, financial fraud and forgery topped the list as 427 FIRs were registered and 388 arrests made in this category, followed by the offence of extortion and blackmailing under which 267 cases were registered and 185 people arrested.

A total of 205 cases were registered under Section 20 (dignity of natural person), 199 cases under Section 21 (rape / modesty of natural person), 76 cases of cyberterrorism / hate speech and 49 cases of child pornography were registered in the year.

An alarming increase in cybercrimes in the country can be gauged from the fact that the number of complaints the FIA got on a monthly basis has doubled in just four years, as in 2018 the agency received on an average 4,031 complaints per month but in 2021 the number rose to 8,688.

The FIA chief said that because of the coronavirus pandemic, almost everything — from governance to business — had been shifted to cyberspace and this also contributed to an increase in reporting.

“There are new challenges like cryptocurrency and we are in the process of preparedness,” he said, adding: “Despite resource constraints, we are still giving relief to the common man. Our priority is the common man who is the actual stakeholder in national security.”

Dr Abbasi said that the FIA had taken new initiatives as the agency introduced e-investigation, getting record and testimony online like email and video calls with security checks, just to provide relief to the common man.

He said that two programmes involving revamping were going to increase the human resources and new technological equipment. “We are pumping money into the cybercrime wing... we are planning to open a cyber-wing in every district.”

Commenting on the cooperation the FIA has been getting from social media giants, Dr Abbasi said that international coordination was critically important, but cooperation from foreign organisations was varying.

“To Facebook we are trying to reach out through Interpol for international cooperation and we are receiving positive results. We are also exploring ideas of creating their business stakes in Pakistani jurisdictions so that law enforcement may be better.”

“We are embarking upon initiatives of cyber-patrol, particularly in areas of organised crime, pornography, crime against children, women, minorities and marginalised segments of society,” he added.

The FIA chief also asked people to contact cybercrime offices by accessing website (https://nr3c.gov.pk/contact.html) or via email at helpdesk@nr3c.gov.pk.

Ms Dad, the digital rights activist, said that the actual number of cybercrime victims could have been higher than the official number of complaints since many people still did not know where to go while there’s a trust deficit especially among the female victims.

“But receiving a complaint is one thing and [properly] handling it is another... how long does it take in the courts for one case... the trials ... there are so many shortcomings in the process and there’s a need to fill the gaps,” she said.

“I think it should not just be the priority of the agency but also the priority of the state to give more resources to the agency and enhance their understanding, especially when it comes to marginalised groups, women and the transgender community.”

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022

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