There has been a universal digital revolution in the past decade that has reshaped the way people connect, communicate and receive data across the globe. Pakistan has been no stranger to this revolution, having witnessed exponential growth in social media usage, with a tech-savvy population embracing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. Recent statistics show Pakistan ranks among the top countries with millions of active Facebook users.
This revolutionary digitalization has brought about a proportional increase in cyber crimes; Dawn noted that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) received more than 102,000 complaints related to cybercrime just in the year 2021.
In the realm of social media, cyberbullying and harassment pose significant concerns. Social media's anonymity empowers cyberbullies, causing severe psychological harm to vulnerable individuals like young teens. Moreover, cyberstalkers exploit this anonymity, potentially leading to real-life harassment as they are able to closely monitor potential victims. The prevalence of social media accounts has also led to thousands of accounts being compromised resulting in serious data breaches and unauthorized access to personal information, photos, and private conversations being exploited by hackers.
Despite the constant evolution of these issues, a considerable number of cases remain unreported, and the perpetrators escape accountability because people are often unaware of the existing laws and processes for reporting cybercrimes. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that only one in seven cybercrimes is reported, which means over 85% goes unreported.
To combat this prevailing issue lodging a complaint against a cybercrime has been made incredibly convenient by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA); which is a national level agency tasked with enforcement of laws for federal crimes. Over the years the FIA Cyber Crime Wing / National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C) first established in 2007 to combat cybercrime has become increasingly resourceful as they gained the authority to gather and retrieve information from cellular companies, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and others forums which help reach the accused, in furtherance to a complaint.
To file a complaint in accordance with the official data on the FIA website; individuals can access the Cybercrime Complaint Registration Form through the official FIA website. The form necessitates the complainant to provide their name, CNIC, contact details, and a comprehensive description of the crime, supported by any available evidence. The processing of the complaint typically takes about a week. Another route to file a complaint online is through the official NR3C email at email@example.com. Additionally, individuals have the option to make a complaint in person by visiting one of the NR3C regional offices, and the addresses and contact details of each office can be found on their official website. In-person complaints are typically processed promptly, while those submitted via email may take up to 10 days to be processed. To follow up a complaint individuals can easily reach out to the agency via email at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
It's important to note that the National Response Centre For Cyber Crime is regulated by the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016; this provides a comprehensive framework covering all forms of cybercrime prevalent in Pakistan, for example Section l0A covers the issue of hate speech where any information or speech that causes sectarian, racial or ethnic hatred is punishable with imprisonment up to 7 years or a fine. Similarly, Section 18 covers offences against dignity of a person, Section 21- cyber stalking and Section 14 – unauthorized use of identity information.
Despite having laws in place, the current system for dealing with cybercrime in Pakistan remains inefficient due to a shortage of personnel and budget constraints. With only two investigation officers per section, the system struggles to process and resolve cases effectively. Moreover, addressing cybercrimes often requires cooperation and coordination between various law enforcement agencies, both within Pakistan and internationally. Ensuring seamless collaboration and information sharing is a challenge as many international organizations refuse to comply due to a lack of policy level engagement by the government and agencies within Pakistan do not collaborate with each other to battle cybercrime; the private sector agencies and other governmental and telecommunication forums work completely independently.
When comparing the Pakistani cybercrime department to more established and efficient ones like that of the United States, a key difference lies in the level of mutual effort to combat cybercrimes. Several federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are responsible for investigating and combating cybercrime. They work in collaboration with state and local law enforcement agencies while collaborating with private sector companies and organizations to share threat intelligence and best practices in cybersecurity. This collaboration strengthens overall cybersecurity resilience and supports agencies like Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in their mission.
The sharp contrast between the two departments highlights significant shortcomings in the system, leading to an inability to handle the rising number of cybercrime cases effectively. Consequently, a large number of cases remain unresolved, and individuals often resort to either ignoring cybercrimes or attempting to resolve them on their own.
It is essential to promote digital literacy about reporting such crimes, awareness, and responsible usage of social media to safeguard against cyber threats. A stronger involvement of the government to conduct awareness movements can help educate people in rural areas, limiting the chances of vulnerable individuals falling prey to cybercrimes.
Furthermore, substantial advancements in the cybercrime wing are imperative. The government needs to take initiatives to establish robust policies that promote collaboration among national forums and agencies. Strengthening legislation and fostering international cooperation are also crucial steps to effectively combat cybercrime. By collectively addressing these challenges, Pakistan can foster a safer online environment and reap the benefits of social media for its social and economic development.