Harassment, extortion, hacking, and other crimes committed over the internet against users of social media often go unacted upon in our country and have been frequently ignored even after the setting up of the FIA’s Cybercrime Wing. According to figures recorded by the Digital Rights Foundation, which acts against harassment and other offences over the internet, there was a huge surge in crimes and acts of harassment during the pandemic. DRF says that it noted a 70 percent increase in cases of crime over the net, with most coming in the form of attempts to extort money, harassment of people using their personal information available over the social media, hacking of WhatsApp and other forums as well as other kinds of crime.
The organisation has also noted that the helpline it has run for four years was made available for 24 hours, 7 days a week for four months between July and September when lockdowns and the impact of the pandemic were at the peak. During 2020, it recorded 3298 phone calls, an average of 212 a month. The largest number of calls, over 600, were recorded in July. It seems the lack of activity and the forced enclosure of people within their homes led to them finding new means to make money, possibly because of desperation, and harass people, more notably women, over social media. Punjab recorded the largest number of cases with 57 percent, followed by Sindh with 11 percent. In each of the other provinces and the federal territory of Islamabad, the figure was far lower.
The findings by the private organisation suggest a need to bolster efforts to deal with cybercrime and also issue warnings to people so that they can protect themselves against scams and other means to extort money from them. Such scams have been commonplace in 2020. We need more such helplines and more people who are aware of what kinds of problems arise over the internet. Women as well as juveniles, who may be using forums that are not suitable for their age, are of course especially vulnerable. A campaign is required to check this, bring down cybercrime levels and restore the internet to normalcy.
Newspaper: The News