‘Do you know what your child is doing online?’
ISLAMABAD: The Children’s Literature Festival featured at least five different sessions on digital security and cyber-safety, aimed both at children and their accompanying parents.
Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Deputy Director Aun Abbas Bukhari’s presentation on ‘How to Protect Yourself Online’ was a serious look into the various types of cybercrimes that exist and outlined measures that may help guard against online harassment.
Mr Bukhari, who is associated with the agency’s National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C), talked about the pitfalls of sharing one’s personal information online and presented an overview of the work that his department could do.
“Ninety per cent of the cases that NR3C deals with involve women,” Mr Bukhari said on Saturday as he warned women not to put up their photographs on social media or networking platforms such as Facebook, Google, Whatsapp, Viber or Skype.
He decried the use of credit cards online and said that such financial activity opened one up to the possibility of identity theft. He urged the need for extra caution when transmitting personal information online and warned against email hoaxes that sought passwords for your various social media accounts.
He stressed that children should not use the Internet unsupervised by their parents, and that on networking sites such as Facebook, they should not be allowed to interact with people outside of their immediate social circle.
“[Children should be taught that] you can use Facebook, but in a way that you are only visible to people you know and invisible to everybody else,” he said, recounting instances where children were kidnapped by criminals who befriended them over social media.
But it didn’t seem like he was getting through. In the audience, a schoolteacher asked her pupil whether he would share his Facebook password with his parents. His reply, “My parents don’t even know I have a Facebook account”.
Mr Bukhari spoke at length about NR3C’s online complaint registration system and described the agency’s relationship with social networking sites. He also claimed that the agency could get Facebook to move on complaints more easily than individuals and encouraged the audience to approach his agency for their problems. He certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Even though the session was modestly attended, a number of young men and women stuck around until the very end, doubtlessly in hopes of seeking guidance from the FIA official about personal complaints or grievances.
During the session itself, a number of people, including volunteers from the festival’s management and audience members, also offered anecdotal accounts of instances where the NR3C had not come through for them.
Mr Bukhari said that in several cases, their hands were tied.
“If it’s a police matter or if the perpetrators are based outside of Pakistan, such matters are outside our jurisdiction,” he said, adding that the agency had thus far registered around 1,200 cases since its inception in 2007.
“Some of those cases are still tied up in the courts,” he said.
In contrast, and perhaps relishing an interaction with children, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Ismail Shah turned up at a digital security session held by digital rights organisation Bolo Bhi on Friday.
In a brief and simplistic presentation about how the Internet was useful for people from all walks of life, he introduced smartpakistan.pk – an aggregation website containing links to useful software curated by the PTA – and extolled the audience of mostly schoolgirls from grades eight to 12 to use the Internet for constructive purposes.
When he asked the girls how many used their own smartphones, very few hands went up. But asked whether they used their parents’ devices, nearly all of the girls raised their hands. This prompted the PTA chief to engage his audience more, and further inquiry revealed that many of the girls were quite knowledgeable about digital security measures such as anti-virus software and firewalls. One girl described a hacker as someone who “enters your computer and infects it”.
Mr Shah said that in school, most children understood and interacted with technology better than their teachers ever could and stressed the need for keeping passwords to oneself and not sharing them with any, except for one’s own parents.
But when he began talking about some of PTA’s achievements, he was caught out by a member of the audience.
One of the schoolteachers accompanying the students in the audience interrupted Mr Shah as he was talking about the smartphone-based emergency alert system, which PTA had developed for schools and media houses as a security measure.
She recounted how, in her experience, law enforcement had not responded to requests for assistance through the app.
Mr Shah deflected responsibility, saying that his organisation had merely developed the platform and that the onus for a timely response was on law enforcement agencies.
In addition to these officials’ presence, both Bolo Bhi and the Digital Rights Foundation also held different digital security trainings with groups of schoolchildren, where they taught them how to protect themselves during online activity.