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189% increase in cyber crime reported during pandemic lockdown

By Myra Imran
June 04, 2020

Islamabad:The Cyber Harassment Helpline of Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) has reported an increase of 189 per cent in complaints during the lockdown enforced in response to COVID-19 outbreak.

A policy brief titled ‘COVID-19 and Cyber Harassment’ issued by DRF shows that as compared to January and February, March and April saw an increase of 189 per cent in complaints registered with the Cyber Harassment Helpline. Around 74 per cent of the cases in March and April were reported by women, 19 per cent by men, and 5 per cent by gender non-binary persons.

Interestingly, when the lockdown was enforced in March, the helpline toll-free number was closed for a specific period of time for the protection of employees. This massive increase in recorded complaints came through email and other social media forums. DRF is an NGO that works towards equal internet rights for all in Pakistan, as well as advocating for a safe internet for all people, especially women. Towards that end, we have a 'Cyber Harassment Helpline' that received calls from people across Pakistan who are cyber harassed and/or bullied.

The policy brief analyses data from Cyber Harassment Helpline from the months of March and April 2020 and compared it to the data from January and February 2020, to compare how cases have grown during the lockdown. The analysis also includes a list of recommendations for concerned stakeholders. The brief says that the forms of gendered violence, largely directed at women in the digital sphere, usually include sexual harassment, surveillance, unauthorized use and dissemination of personal data, and manipulation of personal information including images and videos. It says that this form of violence acts as a significant barrier to women’s expression of themselves as well as meaningful engagement with the internet. A majority of the cases that the Digital Rights Foundation’s cyber harassment helpline received digitally during lockdown (April and May) pertained to blackmailing through non-consensual sharing of information, intimate pictures and videos.

The brief recommends the government to streamline the online complaints system to ensure that complaints can be lodged and case updates can be obtained virtually, ensuring social distancing and minimizing physical contact in the reporting and investigation process. Furthermore, it urges the government for explicit and public SOPs for the operations of cybercrime wings to ensure that complainants are able to follow the required procedures effectively. The paper also suggests Inclusion of cybercrime laws, internet governance, digital forensics and digital rights into the curriculum of the judiciary and law enforcement and gender sensitization for law enforcement, prosecutors, court staff and judges in order to handle cases relating to online violence with effectiveness, sensitivity and an understanding of the gendered risks that women and gender minorities face online.