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Monday December 06, 2021

FIA chief says reforms under way to deal with local and global cybercrime challenges

November 02, 2021
FIA chief says reforms under way to deal with local and global cybercrime challenges

Director General (DG) Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Sanaullah Abbasi has said cybercrime in the social media-era involves digital forensics, audits, cybercrime investigations and a specialised unit mandated to deal with it.

In an interview with The News, he said the Cyber Crime Wing (CCW) of the FIA is the only specialised unit mandated to deal with complaints related to cybercrime under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Investigation Rules, 2018.

The CCW has expertise in digital forensics, technical investigation, information system security audits and cybercrime investigations.

The FIA chief said the organisational structure of the CCW consists of the additional DG cybercrime, (under his command) director admin, director operations, additional director admin, deputy director accounts, additional director operations and additional director zones.

Abbasi said the major functions of the CCW includes the following: investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes; forensic analysis of cybercrimes for the FIA and other LEAs; national and international cooperation in the field of cybercrimes; capacity building of police, intelligence and judiciary; helping prosecution and other government organisations in combating cybercrimes; research and development for the prevention and investigation of cybercrimes; and raising awareness of the latest cyber threats through public awareness campaigns.

On a query, DG Abbasi said the legal framework of the CCW works on Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002 (ETO 2002) was the first law that was enacted in Pakistan to deal with offences related to cybercrimes.

The ETO 2002 was promulgated to “recognise and facilitate documents, records, information, communications and transactions in electronic form, and to provide for the accreditation of certification service providers”. The ETO 2002 had limitations in penalising offences related specifically to cybercrime. He noted that the prevention of the Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2007 (PECO, 2007) was introduced to overcome limitation in the ETO 2002.

PECO specified provisions related to cybercrime and the misuse of technology, but it was repealed shortly afterwards in 2009. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) was passed by parliament in August 2016. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Investigation Rules, 2018 were approved and notified in August 2018.

The FIA director general said the CCW zones are administrative units headed by an additional director of (BPS-19), and each zone has a specific number of the CCRCs falling under its domain. Presently, there are six zones in the CCW -- Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.

Moreover, the Cyber Crime Reporting Centers (CCRC) is working under the supervision of an additional director zone, each CCRC is headed by a deputy director. Each CCRC is assisted by a team of investigators, cybercrime analysts, law officers, forensic experts and other office support staff and each CCRC deals with matters under the Act within specified territorial limits.

The CCW is also consists of forensic laboratories, which, having a headquarter in Islamabad and other labs, are in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.

Complaint process

The DG FIA said the CCW has established a dedicated Helpline (1991) and a Help Desk to receive and process all complaints. Complaints to CCW can be made through email, fax, post, online or by visiting the Help Desk at the CCRCs and the CCW HQ.

Once received, the complaint may go through some or all the below stages: verification of complaint, enquiry, investigation and prosecution.

On a query, DG Abbasi said that the registration and investigation of crimes are related to internet frauds and scams, besides responses to the financial sector’s grievances relating to ATM skimmers, banking frauds, money exchange embezzlements, credit card frauds and e-banking frauds etc.

He added that handling complaints related to online defamation, harassment, threats and blackmailing via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, tendering technical facilitation of audio and video forensic analysis in cyber terrorism cases come under the CCW, as do crackdowns on illegal grey traffickers of VOIP setups, development of in-house tools and applications, contribution in devising a 5-year counter-cyber terrorism strategy with NACTA and Cybercrime awareness campaigns.

It also organises workshops and seminars with relevant organisations for greater coordination and knowledge sharing to combat cybercrime.

Abbasi maintained that involving volunteers and internees from universities in cybercrime awareness campaigns as well as research and publications, international liaison with Facebook, WhatsApp and NCMEC (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children), coordination with banks, Nadra, TELCOS, PTA, BISP/Ehsaas Program Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and as well other departments are also handled by the CCW.

The DG FIA said that from January 1, 2021 till September 30, 2021 the CCW registered 63,709 verifications of which 59,338 were disposed of after verification. Moreover, 11,718 enquiries were registered of which 7,175 were disposed of. Furthermore, 854 cases were registered of which 424 were challaned in the court of law and 25 convictions were made.

On a query, DG Abbasi said a total of 25 suspects have been convicted in 2021, and fines totalling Rs10.45 million have been imposed courts.

In FIR No 04/2017 dated March-19, 2017, the accused Arshad Hadi was convicted under section 21 of PECA 2016 and handed down five years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rs0.3 million, under section 419 PPC five years; imprisonment with a fine of Rs50,000, under section 500 PPC two years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rs25,000 by the court of Khalid Hussain Shahani, sessions judge, Karachi East, on June 10, 2021.

In FIR No. 25/2016 dated October-5, 2016, under section 21 of PECA 2016, the accused Farhan Kamrani was convicted and handed down three years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rs0.1 million, under section 419 PPC three years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rs50,000, and under section 500 PPC two years’ imprisonment with a fine of Rs50,000 by the court of Khalid Hussain Shahani, session judge, Karachi East, on June 15, 2021.

Abbasi said they still have challenges which have to be attended. These include inadequate staff, coping with rapidly changing technology, upgradation of forensic labs, absence of effective international cooperation arrangements, need for constant training and capacity building, shortage of operational vehicles, vast territorial jurisdiction, workload, prosecution issues, data from social media service providers and ISPs-MLA and data acquisition from banks, Telcos, Nadra etc.

DG Abbasi said that in view of the ever-changing dynamics of cybercrime around the globe, and emerging challenges internally, the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing is undertaking a series of reforms in its structures and functions. The reforms pertain to the restructuring of the headquarters, zones and circles, digitisation of internal processes CMS (Complaint Management System), community outreach, international cooperation, effective prosecution, training and capacity building, introducing key performance indicators, research and development, building forensic capacity and new communication environment characterised by social media.