Crime & Justice

Pakistan takes major steps to curb cyber crimes

By Javed Mahmood

A Pakistani journalist gestures at a Facebook page used by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) displayed on a laptop computer screen in Islamabad. [AAMIR QURESHI / AFP]

A Pakistani journalist gestures at a Facebook page used by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) displayed on a laptop computer screen in Islamabad. [AAMIR QURESHI / AFP]

KARACHI -- The Pakistani government is using new cyber crime laws to crack down on hate speech and the promotion of militancy on social media, officials say.

"The government is working on a framework to sign bilateral agreements with various countries to eliminate the use of social media from overseas to spread hatred, militancy and other cyber crimes in Pakistan," Nasir Ayyaz, legal director at the Ministry of Information Technology, told Pakistan Forward.

The agreements will enable Pakistan to take up misuse of social media by extremists, militants and criminals from any country in the world who are targeting Pakistanis from abroad, he said.

Ayyaz attended a November 17 seminar in Karachi titled "Preventing and Combating Cybercrime", organised by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in collaboration with Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) Sindh regional committee on press and electronic media chairperson Sahibzadi Mahin Khan.

Although the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) regularly blocks websites and links that fan religious hatred, extremism and militancy, Pakistan was unable to go after those managed from abroad, which account for as many as 80% of social media links and users, Ayyaz said.

After the passage of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, the Pakistani government is now in a position to sign bilateral cyber security agreements with various foreign countries, he said.

The law also allows international social media and information companies to open offices in Pakistan, he said.

"If Google and Facebook set up their offices in Pakistan, it will be very easy for the government to curb cyber crimes and use of social media by the militants," Ayyaz said.

"Once we finalise the framework for bilateral cyber security agreements, we will short-list the countries from where the extremists and militants are posting hate material and fanning militancy in Pakistan," he said.

The Ministry of Information Technology, Ministry of Law, the FIA and other government departments are firming up proposals that would be included in the bilateral agreements to discourage cyber crimes.

A growing problem

"Cyber crime-related complaints have doubled to over 7,000 in 2016 as the use of mobile phones and of internet technology has expanded in Pakistan," FIA Additional Director General Muhammad Shafique told Pakistan Forward at the conference.

"Cyber crime is a trillion-dollar annual business all over the world," Huma Baqai, an Islamabad-based security analyst, said at the conference.

Terrorists are promoting extremism and radicalisation through social media, a trend that law enforcement needs to discourage, she said.

The FIA's Research Wing is identifying the websites and social media links that are spreading hatred in Pakistan and promoting militancy, and with the help of the PTA, it is blocking such social media links, Shafique said.

As a further line of defence, the FIA has started training students as Cyber Scouts to discourage cyber crimes in the country, he said.

Most of the victims of cyber crimes are children and women 18-25 years of age, Shafique said earlier at the conference.

"We are going to educational institutions and also are approaching different segments of the society to create awareness about cyber security because cyber space is emerging as the crime venue of the future," he said.

5 cyber crime centres; more to come

The FIA has so far established five cyber crime centres, one in Islamabad and four in the provincial capitals, he said, adding that it will establish more centres and add personnel to fight the misuse of social media by militants and criminals.

The FIA has organised its first seminar in Karachi -- the one held November 17 -- and will organise similar events in other cities to create maximum awareness about the hazards of misusing social media, he said.

"People must use social media and mobile phones carefully to stay safe from cyber crimes," former Inspector General of Sindh Police Shahid Nadeem Baloch said at the seminar.

Social media users should keep their passwords safe and log out when not using a computer or mobile phone, he said.

Cyber crimes are a major threat to social and corporate sectors in the country and information technology specialists must adopt safety measures against this threat, he said.

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Greetings. Our country, Long live Pakistan We will take those eyes out who look at Pakistan with bad intentions… Thanks Muhammad Atif Abbasi