KARACHI: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) released the performance report of the first quarter of 2018, which showed women as victims in a staggering 90% of the cases reported to the Cybercrime Circle in Lahore.
The report highlights the need to implement reforms and digital rights and to revisit the areas of consent and copyrights. It also reflected that 90% of the cases reported originated from Facebook.
According to the report, there were about 1,037 inquiries registered and a total of 1,716 cases carried forward from the last quarter of 2017, which brought the grand total to 2,753 cases of cyber harassment and blackmail that are now registered in the cell.
The majority of the complaints out of the cases were from women and minor girls, and involved pornographic content.
Women in online spaces
Digital Rights Foundation digital activist and lawyer Nighat Dad told The Express Tribune that 90% is a massive number of women complainers. “Most complaints are of non-consensual use of photos or images; our experience dictates the same as the agency…male partners start blackmailing women,” she said.
“The data is only restricted to those individuals who have been given consent. The moment blackmail enters, the situation is illegal already,” she said. However, she added that the courts need to revise the rulings so that a precedent is set.
The lawyer pointed out flaws in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) that it appears ‘exciting’ but it is incredibly vague as well. “Every law comes with a defined set of rules. The PECA law, unfortunately, comes with none,” she lamented and added that the FIA’s involvement in the PECA law also came as a different notification, and not part of the law.
The lawyer said that the ambiguity of the clause allows the courts to interpret it openly and with the advent of digital age, the law can be interpreted accordingly. However, she added that the law does not “say much” and there is mass confusion over the functionality of it.
FIA’s sole Cybercrime Circle in Punjab Director Khalid Anis told The Express Tribune that the numbers indicate that 70% of the cases received were related to pornographic content, which was being used without consent and for blackmail.
The performance report highlights the three-step process of the bureau; verification of complaints through rigorous investigation, inquiries into claims through records, and cases registered against perpetrators in two designated courts.
Nature of cases
Anis said that a majority of the cases were because of relationships breaking down at times resulting in acts out of vengeance. He added that women often complain that they are being blackmailed by former friends or acquaintances.
Around 90% of the complaints state that the crime was committed through Facebook or WhatsApp and the remaining complaints are from Twitter and personal emails. The FIA official said that a pattern has emerged in the last 2-2.5 years in which email addresses are hacked and money is wrongly transferred to different bank accounts. “The hack usually comes from Greece and the money is transferred to Nigeria,” the director said.
Anis said that they receive up to 1200 complaints each month but only 150-200 are advanced because of lack of cooperation from the suspects and the low strength of staff in the Lahore office. “We send each outlet three verification notices, including Facebook, Pakistan Telecommunication Association (PTA) and the suspect,” he said.
The director said that the FIA cybercrime cell has a comprehensive process to deal with requests. “Once a request has been registered, we aim to verify it. We call the individual who lodged the complaint and ask them to verify their claim, provide their number and digital address to which the crime was perpetrated.”
“The FIA reaches out to Facebook authorities in the United States (US) requesting them to provide information regarding the event after gathering primary data,” he said and added “It takes approximately 30-35 days for Facebook officials to send the details to us… FIA then reaches out to PTA to trace the internet providers.”
The Bureau traces the crime to the suspect and the last step is to register a case in one of the two courts allotted to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) which was introduced in 2017.
Anis said that the entire process could take up to six to nine months per case. “The stipulated time for an inquiry is three months in addition to the 30-day wait for Facebook authorities to respond…a judge takes an average of 3-4 months to wrap up the proceedings,” Anis said of the whole process. The director claimed that more than 100 people have been arrested on charges of cybercrime.
Anis also lamented the shortage of staff due to which multiple cases met with unsatisfying end. “Director-General FIA Bashir Memon has planned to create wings of the cybercrime cell which will spread all over Punjab from Multan to Dera Ghazi Khan, in Faisalabad, Sargodha, Gujrat among others,” Anis added. He said that the process will be much better once it is implemented.
The senior official also said that heading the sole cyber wing of the bureau in Punjab created problems of accessibility. He added that they receive complaints from different parts of Punjab and are unable to personally investigate because of low staffing.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2018.