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Sunday June 23, 2024

Cyber challenge

By Editorial Board
January 06, 2022

The FIA’s Cybercrime Wing has reported that it received over 95,000 complaints from all around Pakistan in 2021. Most of these complaints related to issues of ‘protecting women’s modesty’, child pornography, and cyber fraud. Though no country in the world can claim to be immune from cybercrime, an increase of over 11,000 complaints -- from 84,000 in 2020 to over 95 thousand in 2021 -- is something that deserves attention. The increase in the number of complaints is significant in that it only reflects the ones that were registered. There may be many more incidences of violating privacy, child pornography, and cyber fraud that go unregistered for various reasons.

There is a clear need to design category-based strategies to combat different types of crimes that may not fall under one umbrella term of cybercrimes. Once separate categorical strategies for privacy, pornography, and fraud are developed, there will be a need for capacity building of the FIA staff tasked with tackling such crimes. At the moment, there are hardly any specialised personnel across Pakistan who can claim state-of-the-art expertise in the ever-evolving fields of cybercrimes. Then there will be a challenge of investing in technological competence without which training would not help. Each category of cybercrimes requires a specific set of skills and investigation capabilities. Just increasing the number of officers at the FIA will not be sufficient; they will need up-to-date research skills to combat cybercrimes. For instance, financial fraud and online blackmailing will require distinct competencies -- and crimes such as defamation and hate speech call for their own relevant abilities to tackle. Even if the investigation is up to mark, the prosecution in many cases fails to establish a solid case.

There is also a clear need for involving academia and the civil society to counter such crimes. As the cliche goes ‘prevention is better than cure’, and this applies to prevention of cybercrimes too. There is a wide range of awareness campaigns that educational institutions and the media can run for their audiences. The people need to be aware of attempts that criminals make and everyone needs to protect themselves from cybercrime victimisation. The use of phony SIMs has become a common practice by such criminals and their availability and use must come to an end. Most cyber-related crimes and frauds are the result of SIMs that have been activated through fake thumbprints. The availability of skimming devices is also a challenge that the FIA must counter. In short, cybercrime is a serious threat and the FIA and other concerned authorities must keep themselves alert and equipped to face this menace. That obviously, however, must never be used to restrict legitimate legal rights of citizens to information, speech and dissent. It would be unfortunate if something as serious as combating cybercrime were used to further restrict space for political dissent.