No legal net for the fake
LAHORE: “My Facebook account has been hacked. The hacker has posted objectionable material on it causing a lot of stress to me, my family members and friends,” says a complainant, a woman.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has no remedy to redress the complaint in the absence of a law to check cyber crime, including fake and stolen identities on Facebook, Twitter and other social media links. The complainant is asked to go to either the ministry of information and technology or the police.
In 2013, the FIA received more than 1,000 such complaints, but it was unable to take up most of them because of lack of an effective law. In exceptional circumstances, the FIA took up a few cases invoking the insufficient Telegraphic Act or Electronic Transaction Ordinance (ETO).
The agency registered a case against a female TV host under section 36 of the ETO (privacy of information or illegal access to an information system) on the complaint of a former top official of the Pakistan Television Corporation. The host is accused of developing a fake Facebook account and a website page in the name of the ex-MD of PTV and tampering with record and posting objectionable material about him and his family.
After taking a considerable time (about two years), the FIA has submitted the case in a court in Lahore. In another case, the FIA traced a man who was operating a fake Twitter account of a well-known TV anchor. The account was used to make some anti-government tweets. A source in the FIA says the man was let off after he apologised.
The FIA has problems in acting against a fake Facebook account since it has to be done through authorities in the US. It is because of this complication that neither the FIA nor the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) could address the request of the PTV official for the removal of the fake Facebook account and web page.
A PTA official told Dawn that complainants should write to the Facebook authorities. He says many websites have been blocked in the light of a decision taken by an inter-ministerial committee.
The FIA claims to have initiated investigation into matters related to credit/debit cards theft, cyber stalking, electronic forgery, software theft, grey traffickers and threatening messages.
The agency says it will be empowered to deal with all cyber crimes once the much-awaited Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill is passed. The bill has been sent to the law department for vetting after which it will be presented in the National Assembly.
The million-dollar question is: does the FIA have the required expertise to deal with the present-day cyber crimes as a lot of technicalities are involved in it?
The officials Dawn spoke to say the government must launch an awareness campaign before introducing the new legislation.
They say a majority of the Facebook users comprises young people and that’s why such a campaign should focus on educational institutions. “Psychopathic tendencies are on the rise in our society and hacking others’ identities on Facebook or Twitter is one of its reflections,” says Prof Rukhsana Kausar, the chairperson of Punjab University Applied Psychology. She said the youth should be educated on the proper use of social media tools. “An awareness drive should make the people aware of the repercussions of committing any violation/crime on social media.”
Islamabad-based IT expert Ammir Attaa says the FIA will have to collaborate with the Facebook, Twitter, Google and local websites once the new law is enacted to check social media-related complaints. “Since we don’t have any cyber crime law at the moment, neither the Facebook nor other companies such as Google are willing to address the complaints of the Pakistani government,” he said.
The people who are online must take all possible measures to secure their “digital identities and assets”, Attaa said. “The users must follow the two-step verification process (login with password and a unique security code that is sent to their cellphones via SMS in real time) while opening their accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., which will enable them to avoid unauthorised access to their accounts.”