The state of Pakistani cyberspace / Editorial

A report titled the Pakistan Internet Landscape Report 2018, published by human rights and advocacy organisation Bytes For All has brought many concerning trends in Pakistani cyberspace to light. These included limits on internet access, rising censorship, failure to protect privacy, rising cybercrime and increasing vulnerability to hacking, rising proliferation of child porn, fake news, as well as concerns in the e-commerce and online banking sectors.
The report has noted that that it was released at a time when South Asian countries find themselves under controlling regimes, and that that this has had an effect on online freedoms — especially the right to freedom of expression.
With regards to Pakistan, one of the key findings has been that as internet penetration has increased in Pakistan; lack of access, potential for online abuse and censorship have remained issues.
It should be noted that even as state censorship of online spaces has increased, the authorities have failed to prevent Pakistani cyberspace from being used by terrorist organisations for recruitment purposes. After an operation in Karachi on Monday that resulted in the arrest of five members of ISIS, it was revealed that the organisation had been using social media to indoctrinate and recruit people.
Another concern is that internet access still seems to be the purview of the privileged. This has kept overall internet penetration in the country low. In 2018, a survey conducted by Sri Lanka based think-tank LirneAsia revealed that only 17 percent of the Pakistani population had internet access. Furthermore, gaining internet access in Pakistan is also harder for women in comparison to men.
Then there is the issue of child pornography. The report states that such material is produced and disseminated online to a worrying extent from within Pakistan. Awareness of the issue has increased, with more action being taken against such practices in 2018. However, the report stated that this is “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Overall, the situation of Pakistani cyberspace seems very bleak. Because the class and gender gap have also manifested themselves online, Pakistan will face hurdles living up to its digital potential. The incumbent government must address these issues and make the internet a safe, open and inclusive space.

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