While the advent of social media has had huge outreach in Pakistan, allowing easier connection to rural or neglected regions, it has also brought in new mediums of abuse and harassment- which grow faster than the time it takes for protection laws to catch up.
The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a research-based advocacy organisation which provides a helpline for cases of cybercrime, has released a report which lays out the particulars of cybercrime in Pakistan- a little researched phenomenon before. Some statistics found by DRF are troubling- the report finds that the apps Facebook and WhatsApp have the worst track record when it comes to cases of online harassment and misuse of data in Pakistan. It is unfortunate but perhaps not surprising that most cases of online harassment target women- the report noted that 59pc of the calls were made by women, whereas 41pc of the callers were men, of which several men were calling on behalf of women.
This data, of women being especially vulnerable to instances of online harassment, is supported by the cases which are heard by the FIA cybercrime wing under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016. A perusal of the case-law will reveal that almost all victims of online harassment who have appealed to the Court are women. The fact that 77% of internet users in Pakistan are male does not help in making the online sphere safer for women.
The DRF report goes deeper and reveals serious flaws in the cyber security system in our institutions. A lot of cyber-crimes reported also pertain to hacking- one of the most common types of complaints involved deception to gain WhatsApp codes of mobile users to hack WhatsApp accounts. The scammers claim to be from legitimate organisations, ranging from television game shows, Pakistan Army, government departments and telecommunication companies.
These findings indicate that there are improvements needed in the FIA cybercrime wing. While funding for the NR3C has increased, more needs to be done due to the exponential growth in cybercrimes. The FIA recently revealed to the Senate that it only has 10 cybercrime experts at its disposal- online crimes will only increase due to outreach and will spill over to illegal influence in elections as well, thus it is essential that more resources are devoted towards tackling this menace. The FIA also needs to induct more gender sensitivity in its procedure- the country’s public sphere is already unsafe for women- the online sphere does not need to be as well.