THE FIA chief claimed this week that people’s confidence in law enforcement was increasing as cybercrime complaints in the last year topped 100,000. This appears to be a misplaced claim, as the number of complaints is just a fraction of Pakistan’s internet penetration which at about 18pc amounts to 36m people, and cellular use, too, which clocks in at over 180m users. The fact that the average number of complaints per month has doubled over four years points to this growth in internet and cellular coverage, and is more a testament of how fast the digital landscape is expanding rather than improved confidence in the force.
There are a number of ways in which the FIA can gain the public’s trust in its cybercrime operations. But this involves true improvement in the FIA’s processes and inductions rather than mere cosmetic changes or numeric milestones. First and foremost, it is not enough that the FIA is inducting more women officers as part of its investigation teams. Though it is undoubtedly easier for female victims of cybercrime to interact with women officers, without quality and consistent gender-sensitive training, a gender-based increase alone in the workforce will not improve the experience of those who report crimes in the face of blackmail, pressure and guilt. Second, the FIA’s process for handling cybercrime complaints must be set in stone and be transparent, similar to police reports where the public know that FIRs precede court cases. The steps that follow after a complaint is lodged must be clearly defined, especially on their website. Of the approximately 100,000 complaints filed last year, only about 15,000 passed the criteria for initiating inquiries. This means that the FIA has work to do when it comes to educating people about which complaints make it to the next step and how things proceed from there. It must also be clear that the process cannot be arbitrary and cannot be altered if there’s a change at the top in order to ensure justice and continuity. A critical component of Peca stipulates that the agency submit a half-yearly report to both houses of parliament for consideration. It is not clear whether parliamentarians are receiving these reports and performing their function of scrutinising them. It is not enough for the FIA to make big announcements about new wings and milestones, as the agency must strive to deliver justice and security to citizens in a transparent and consistent manner.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2022