ISLAMABAD: For Fareeda Maqbool Jan – not her real name – life has been miserable ever since she discovered that her ex-fiancé had maliciously created a fake Facebook profile of her.
The dirty ‘ex’ stole not just her identity but also uploaded her cell phone number, with some unsavoury photographs. She was startled and horrified when strange men suddenly started calling her on the number. “I was caught unawares. Now people gossip and say vicious things about me, without caring to know what vicious minds can do in today’s cyber world,” moans the exasperated girl.
Furious at the unwanted calls and blatant abuse of her privacy, she has lodged a formal complaint with the National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes (NR3C), run by the cyber crime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency and praying for the best.
Her’s is not an isolated case of harassment. Rights activists say there may exist thousands of such cases as our society has jumped headlong and unguarded in the virtual world that feeds most on the fantasies of the uneducated.
Dr Fouzia Saeed of AASHA, an NGO working against harassment, recounts that a woman from Dadu, Sindh, attempted suicide when a tampered picture of her surfaced on the internet.
“It is unfortunate that people are not educated in respecting other people’s privacy, specifically of women,” she said.
Currently the FIA is probing over 1,000 complaints of identity thefts filed by either women or their immediate relatives.
An official of the agency’s cyber-crime wing acknowledged, on condition of anonymity, that there are several thousand unaccounted cases of identity thefts on popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Orkut since women do not register any complaint due to societal taboos.
FIA has the exclusive authority to pursue cyber crimes under PECO, the Pakistan Electronic Crime Ordinance 2007, one of two laws that monitor Pakistan’s cyber space.
The other is ETO, the Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002, that provides for “legal sanctity and protection of e-commerce locally and globally”. PECO 2007 used to deal with cyber-crimes such as cyber terrorism, data damage, electronic fraud, forgery, stalking and spamming. ‘Used to’ because PECO has not been re-promulgated since 2009. That has hindered pursuing the cases of identity theft. “We took several individuals, mostly middle-aged men from different parts of the country, to courts for the mischief, and a few of them were formally charged too, but since the PECO 2007 has lapsed, we made no headway,” lamented one FIA officer.
ETO 2002 is the only law left to bank upon. It’s Clauses 36 and 37 relate to such offences as forgery on the internet or digital media, but prescribe milder punishment than did PECO.
Interestingly, the country’s lawmakers allowed PECO to die a silent death at a time when local and international organisations had been demanding to make it more comprehensive by bringing child pornography and other voyeur crime under its purview.
Western internet monitoring organisations are learnt to have informed FIA’s NR3C about internet users in Pakistan who access ‘child immoral’ websites. Their number runs into several hundred but there is no law to deal with the menace.
“Much less accessing such material, even intending to access such websites is a heinous crime in western countries. But we don’t have a law in Pakistan to deal with same,” a senior official of the wing told Dawn.
“We have tracked IP addresses provided by foreign cyber security institutions to help identify the computer used to send a particular email or access a particular website.
We discovered several individuals used their credit cards to access those illegal, commercial websites, said the official.
The western security institutions wanted these people tried in the court. “We could not because of the absence of a law,” he said.
However, after waiting for more than 10 years since signing the United Nations Convention on Rights of Child, Pakistan recently ratified its protocols dealing with such crimes.
“Pakistan now needs to make relevant laws. Children around the world are same and the crime should be dealt with here as it is done internationally,” said Arshed Mehmood, executive director of the Society for Protection of the Rights of the Child, an NGO.
PML-N legislator Anoosha Rehman Khan, who is a member of the parliamentary committee on technology, receives many complaints of misuse of social media and harassment of women.
“I am very much on to address such concerns,” she said.
She admitted glaring loopholes exist in the legal field regarding child pornography, but said a select committee has been formed in the National Assembly to look into the revival of PECO 2007.
“All un-addressed abuses against women and children and other segments of society, whether through social networking sites or any other form of electronic means, will be addressed in the new PECO,” she assured Dawn.
However she could not provide a timeline for the urgent task.