Sunday February 05, 2023

With its present policies, Pakistan on way to become a ‘cyber leper’

December 31, 2015


With the world economy being driven by information and online business transactions, the ignorant and tactless approach of the Pakistani government towards cyber security is paving a road towards international isolation and financial crises.

If the Pakistani government continues its block-and-ban policies in an age where the internet not just supplements but actually drives economies of the world, it would deprive its people of a basic amenity which has filled in the gaps left by the lax physical infrastructure itself.

These were the views expressed by two eminent cyber security experts during a discussion at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Wednesday.

According to Ammar Jaffri and Barrister Zahid Jamil, the most pertinent dilemma for Pakistan, at present, is whether the government improves its own understanding of cyber security and the related infrastructure or keeps slapping useless bans that end up creating, rather than solving problems.

Jaffri is a pioneer of the cyber security centre of the Federal Investigation Agency, where he served as an additional director-general, besides being the ex-chairman of the cyber security task force.

Emphasising the level of human dependency upon the internet in today’s world, he said that with Bitcoin (online currency), e-health and e-learning changing the way basic services were being delivered, and companies such as Amazon working on systems to deliver packages via unmanned drones, the government really needed to shift its focus away from mere physical development.

The internet, he continued, had changed lifestyles and unless the government took measures to improve its capacity to deal with and regulate cyber services, not only will Pakistan remain behind rest of the world, but will also be heading backwards in terms of educational and economic development.

“Anyone who wants to keep abreast with the world needs to be connected,” said Jaffri. “It is information which drives economies today and, to take advantage of that, Pakistan needs to focus on increasing connectivity, rather than living in a cocoon of fear and isolation.”

Taking the discussion forward, Barrister Zahid Jamil, who is an international expert on cyber security and legislation, said Pakistan needed to step out of its territorial security posture.

“The old parameters of border security don’t work in the new world,” he said. “In an age where information sharing is a must for national security measures, an approach of territorial security is not only redundant but also foolish.”

Jamil said the new world, a world dependent and driven by the internet way beyond Facebook and Twitter, should be borderless, non-territorial and non-sovereign. “The challenge is not how to keep people out. That’s just naïve,” he said. “The challenge is how to let everyone in while keeping and ensuring security.”

According to the legal expert, with its block-and-ban policy towards cyber security, the Pakistani government had ended up creating its own cyber crisis where the maximum advantage was being leveraged by those who misused the internet, rather than the everyday user. He said the misguided policies had not only put Pakistan behind other developing economies in Asia, even Afghanistan, but had also damaged its credibility to a great extent. 

While referring to the upcoming cyber crime legislation, Jamil, who has help devise and advised on cyber security legislation for more than 25 countries, termed it the “worst in the world”. 

Citing an example other than that of gross human rights violations, he said the deeply flawed law criminalised all kinds of encryption, crucial for internet banking and online transactions.

He expressed concern that the impending legislation might see more international services retract their services from Pakistan, following suit of Blackberry which earlier this month wrapped up its business from the country.

“Pakistan was the first country to enact a law pertaining to electronic transactions in 2002,” he said. “But now the world is overtaking us, while we go backwards into an era which no longer exists.”