Cybercrime is a relatively modern phenomenon in Pakistan and can take many forms, from pornography involving children to fraud and impersonation. It is diverse and ever evolving. The Federal Investigation Agency has now released a performance report for the first quarter of 2018 and it makes for revealing reading. Women make up a staggering 90 per cent of the cases reported to the Cybercrime circle in Lahore, and of that number 90 per cent of cases had their origins in Facebook.
This highlights once again the vulnerability of women in Pakistan no matter where they go, what they do, how they dress and speak — and cyberspace is no less a place for them to be abused than anywhere else. According to Nighat Dad, a prominent activist for digital rights, most of the complaints arise from the non-consensual use of images to shame and blacken the character of women as well as blackmail and harass them.
This is a complex area both for the law and civil society. The law rarely keeps pace with evolving social behaviours, and the existing law is flawed. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act lacks the defined set of rules that would enhance its efficacy and there is anyway a shortage of staff to cope with the volume of cases being referred — a number that can only increase over time. With 1,200 cases reported every month, each of which may take months to resolve through a lengthy process it is obvious that there is a mismatch between crime and its resolution one way or the other. The justice system is no better equipped to cope with the volume either.
Despite all the deficits in the system and the legislation there is no doubt that women are today and in the future going to be the principal victims of cybercrime in Pakistan. This is both threat and opportunity for legislators and those working to protect women in physical as well as cyberspace. It is not beyond the capacity of either to work together for the betterment of half the population, a goal well worth striving towards.