ISLAMABAD: In the absence of a proper legal framework to check crimes committed online, nearly all those accused of harassment, cyber attacks or leaking ‘private’ material, manage to escape prosecution.
Recently, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) freed a young man – accused of uploading compromising photographs of his former fiancée – on bail because the prosecution did not have sufficient evidence to incriminate him.
According to details that emerged in court, the suspect fell in love with the girl in question, a resident of Rawalpindi, and the two were betrothed nearly four years ago.
Know more: Cyberstalking: New challenges
According to the suspect’s brother, the engagement had the blessing of both families. But in March of this year, the engagement was annulled.
The suspect’s brother told Dawn the union was broken off when certain compromising photographs of the girl appeared on the social networking site, Facebook.
However, in the complaint filed by her with the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Circle, she accused her former fiancé of uploading the photographs.
Suspected of posting compromising photos, the man was granted bail due to absence of effective cyber crime laws
In the application, she alleged that he was blackmailing her on social media and that he had also sent the photographs to one of her cousins.
The complainant also alleged that the suspect had hacked into her Facebook account and began impersonating her in conversations with her friends and family members.
The FIA Cyber Crime Circle took the accused young man into custody on June 11 and registered a case against him.
The FIR reads: “During the course of inquiry it transpired that (the suspect) … accessed the Facebook profile of the complainant (without authorisation) … and posted vulgar/defamatory comments. He also uploaded obscene photos on her Facebook page”.
Pakistan does not have a specific law to deal with cyber crimes, particularly cyberstalking. In the absence of such a law or ordinance, the FIA cannot touch many issues.
Government offices relied on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, 2007. When it lapsed in November 2009, they turned to the older Electronic Transactions Ordinance (ETO) 2002, when required. Under the ETO, the highest punishment for cyber crimes is a maximum of seven years in prison.
The ETO deals with electronic transactions of documents, records, information and other forms of communication. However, it does not address specific issues, such as online harassment or the publication of compromising photographs or videos.
The ETO was drafted at a time when information technology (IT) was not what it is today. IT experts say it cannot be used against hackers and cyber bullies such as the young man in question, whose former fiancé was all but destroyed by this terrible invasion of privacy.
Though the case against him still continues in court, the absence of suitable laws has ensured that he is being treated relatively lightly.
His appeal for bail was granted by the IHC due to a lack of ‘concrete legislation’ by Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi. Generally, bail is granted in cases where the court believes that evidence against a suspect is weak.
According to Wahajus Siraj, convener at the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), there are no laws against such misuse of social media websites.
“Law enforcement agencies still rely on the outdated ETO and certain sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to prosecute the accused,” he said, adding that, “In such cases, it is very difficult for someone, especially women, to protect their dignity and privacy”.
According to Mr Siraj, the government has been was working on a new cyber crime bill, “but so far, it has not been tabled in the parliament or discussed with the federal cabinet”.
Sagheer Wattoo, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, also admitted that there were currently no laws dealing with the distribution of obscene material that may endanger the lives and reputation of individuals, especially women.
He said the Cyber Crimes Bill 2014 had been finalised and would be placed before the federal cabinet after Eid.
“The bill has been prepared by IT minister Anusha Rehman and she has incorporated sections relating to the protection of women in the law,” he added.