A RISE in cyber harassment cases in the country points to how digital tools and social media are manipulated by individuals to intimidate, bully and defraud young people. Almost 2,700 people, mostly women, approached the Digital Rights Foundation in 2022 to lodge complaints of harassment, financial fraud and blackmail. The complainants were between the ages of 18 and 30 years, with the highest number of complaints from Punjab. The report notes that the FIA, the main law-enforcement agency mandated to address the issue, has cybercrime wings in only 15 cities. Many have told DRF that the channel of registering online complaints is not reliable; in fact, in-person registration seems more effective. This means that the true number of cybercrime cases in the country may be much higher, as, thanks to the lack of an effective online reporting mechanism, individuals can only register a complaint in cities where the FIA has a dedicated wing.
As internet use increases in Pakistan, the perpetrators of these crimes will cast a wider net when hunting for targets. The government needs to wake up to this reality. Ironically, it rushes to legislate on internet regulation, and to make laws legitimising surveillance and clampdowns. There is, unfortunately, little political will when it comes to implementing already existing laws to address cybercrime and internet harassment, or to improve the laws. Every government is focused on enacting laws for short-term gains, or as a reaction to an event, without thoughtfully dealing with the issue. To worsen matters, LEAs are non-transparent regarding how they work on cases, so it is difficult to ascertain if the right work is being done. Resultantly, women and marginalised communities are repeatedly targeted and have limited platforms for their grievances to be taken up. The government needs to engage with digital rights activists and groups to see where the laws are failing, and where LEAs can improve to help victims of cybercrime get justice.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2023