Like every other developing nation in the world Pakistan has a burgeoning reliance on the internet. Online retail is booming alongside an equally vibrant courier sector. Online banking is increasing at much the same rate as an expanding middle class. The once rare debit and credit cards are increasingly welcome. Wifi hotspots can be found in railway and bus stations and education has embraced the internet wholeheartedly with schools, both government and private, using an online curriculum as well as for data collection. There is even an impact on illiteracy, as poorer and less-educated people are able to afford smart devices and with that comes the basic literacy of SMS and the ability to use a keypad or touchscreen. All of the above is positive and we hope that the many threads and trends continue to enhance the quality of national life and the economy.
Unfortunately, there is a downside. The Senate Standing Committee on IT and Telecommunications was briefed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Thursday 21st June and it was not good news. The FIA is the lead agency nationally for the investigation of major crimes but it only has 10 dedicated officers to investigate cybercrimes, a weakness that needs to be urgently addressed. It was revealed that the FIA National Response Centre for Cybercrime (NRCCC) lacks the capacity to be proactive, to prevent offences related to the internet and there are nowadays many of these. Bank fraud, lottery scams and a range of offences committed on social media all abound. The child pornography industry is reportedly flourishing in Pakistan, a vile trade conducted almost exclusively online. Recent legislation relating to sexual harassment especially of women online is rendered worthless as there are not the female staff in the FIA that can investigate the offences reported by women.
Criminals are usually one step ahead of those trying to catch them in terms of resources and competencies. The internet can be a dark and dangerous place and Pakistan is vulnerable, a vulnerability that will have been spotted by criminals and not only in Pakistan. Sadly we expect no early improvement.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2018.