Combating Cyber Crimes

“Offences that are committed against individuals or groups of individuals with a criminal motive to intentionally harm the reputation of the victim or cause physical or mental harm to the victim directly or indirectly, using modern telecommunication networks such as Internet (chat rooms, emails, notice boards and groups) and mobile phones (SMS/MMS).” (Halder and Jaishankar)

The Internet has radically changed the way we communicate. We can now interrelate with such people across the world whom we never had met. Internet is indeed a great way to interact with people; but with this new form of communication come new concerns.

The Internet was invented in order to facilitate people to get information and acquaintance regarding what is happening in the world around. But, unfortunately some miscreants have failed the noble idea behind it by continuously misusing — rather abusing — it. People living in different parts of the world are always in connection with each other through social networking websites but unfortunately this connectivity has turned into a scourge as they are now prone to the viciousness of cyber crimes.

In the contemporary world, cyber crime has emerged as one of the biggest threats to peoples’ privacy, life and property. Almost all countries, including the developing ones, are combating this threat with extreme legal measures. But, in Pakistan, unfortunately, cyber crime laws are either toothless or are still awaiting implementation. Due to this inordinate delay, a constant increase in blackmailing and hacking instances is being witnessed.

Fake Facebook accounts are one of the biggest cyber crimes in the social networking world. The aggravating menace of blackmailing on Facebook and other social networking websites is a potential threat to a person’s life. People behind these fake accounts try to extract undue benefits, including money, from others. According to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), 99% of complaints regarding blackmailing through Facebook and others come from girls the accounts of whom were hacked by some intruders. They obtained girls’ pictures and other content from their accounts; and uploaded it on different social websites after making some obscene photoshopping.

Another aspect is that these hackers try to communicate with the relatives and friends of the affected person in improper and vulgar language just to degrade the affectees. A major purpose of such acts has been to vent anger over the rejection of a marriage proposal or the breakup between the two. It has also been witnessed that a number of girls were expelled from their educational institutions just because of these pictures and videos, some of the affected girls went on to such an extreme that they even committed suicide.

According to a recent FIA report, cyber crimes have been constantly increasing in Pakistan and girls belonging to educated, wealthy families and those from middle class are being blackmailed via Facebook and various other social networking websites.

Another serious cyber crime includes fraudulent emails, e.g. sometimes people receive emails that they have won a jackpot. But when responded they were demanding money in such a dubiously-polite way that many people even deposited required amounts in their bank accounts. But, later they proved to be only the frauds.

Similarly, some people post the ads announcing jobs. Given the high unemployment rate in Pakistan, many people apply who, in return, are asked to deposit money in the name of training fee. After fleecing the hundreds and thousands of people, these criminals vanish into thin air. More perplexing is the fact that people are still unaware of these fraudulent schemes and advertisements. Even the e-banking system in Pakistan is also at high risk. Account-holders can lose their money to hackers and criminals sitting offshore somewhere where there are no cyber law enforcing agencies.

In recent years, different militant outfits including Taliban and Al Qaeda have also made an apt use of social media to propagate their ideology. Through social media, people are incited to kill innocents in all parts of the world. Due to no effective cyber laws in Pakistan, these activities are going on unchecked. It is due to this very reason that cyber crime has become one of the fastest growing areas of crime. More and more criminals are exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity that modern technologies offer in order to commit a diverse range of crimes. These include attacks against computer data and systems, identity theft, the distribution of pornographic images, internet auction fraud, the penetration of online financial services, as well as the deployment of viruses, Botnets, and various email scams.

The role of government can be gauged from the fact that it announced to install high technology mechanisms at the National Response Center of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to counter cyber-terrorism but, in fact, the existing cyber crime wing of the FIA lacks not only the advanced technology, but is devoid of any infrastructure as well. Launched on March 13, 2003, the Cyber Crime Wing was established after the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. In this case, Pakistani agencies had to rely on American investigators to trace the e-mails sent to the media by his abductors. That is when the need was felt for such a unit.

It emerged in February 2014 that the government is in the process of not only passing the Electronic Documents and Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act, 2014 but would also be setting up a cyber authority. While this act should have come as a welcome step for Pakistan’s booming online community, it has done the reverse. Available publicly, the Cyber Crimes Act, 2014 is open for anyone’s perusal and shows just how insecure, fragile and extreme it is when it comes to the suggested punishments.

The law contains a clause giving permission to authorities to “add or omit any electronic signature and the procedure for affixing such signature” thereby violating citizens’ right to privacy.

Another startling and disturbing clause gives the authorities warrantless permission to intercept electronic transmission. This would let the officials “collect or record by electronic means traffic data in real-time associated with specified electronic documents transmitted by means of electronic devices” much like what the notorious National Security Agency (NSA) has been doing in the past. While activists and the online community are fighting against the NSA’s policies after Edward Snowden leaked documents containing sensitive information, Pakistanis are being dragged towards this draconian cyber era by legitimising such surveillance by making it into a law.

Apart from the vaguely defined laws and severe punishments, the process of establishing a cyber authority also remains undefined. The draft mentions that the authority will comprise seven members with five from the private sector. However, neither the selection nor election process is defined, nor does it indicate whether the private sector members will come from businesses or civil society, or both.

It is also quite alarming to see that various portions of this legislation have been copied from India’s Information Technology Act 2000. It should be noted here that Information Technology Act of India has itself been criticised for infringing upon the citizens’ liberties and has been long policed against by activists globally. The Act was thereby amended and introduced as the Amended IT Act of 2008.

The law in itself and the proposed setup of a government-controlled, centralised cyber authority will give extreme powers to some officials. While this law will definitely affect the online community in Pakistan and attack its openness, it will also set an unsettling precedent for other Muslim countries, as mentioned by Davies, who would just copy portions of the laws and perhaps, make the punishments even worse.

In Pakistan, cyber crime as other crimes can’t be curbed completely hence it is our own responsibility to keep an alert and remain ever watchful. It depends on us how we use Internet and if we will use it in an appropriate manner then it will give us benefit otherwise we will receive drawback and will be haunted by these cyber criminals.

By:Mishaal Manzoor


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