Digital Rights Foundation released Cyber Harassment Helpline’s annual report of 2019 on 24th June. The report highlights complaint trends observed in the previous year as well as the policy recommendations for all the stakeholders. Concerning trends observed were the increase of attacks on mobile wallets/ e-wallets like EasyPaisa and phishing attacks where people were targeted through WhatsApp or text messaging. The Helpline saw a total of 2023 cases being reported, with a daily average of 146 calls per month in 2019. When compared to the overall complaints the Helpline had received over three years, the calls from 2019 account for 45% of all complaints. This showed an alarming increase in the number of cases over time and a disturbing upward trend in cyber-harassment cases.
- Streamlining the online complaints system to ensure that complaints can be lodged and case updates can be obtained virtually, ensuring social distancing and minimizing physical contact in the reporting and investigation process. Furthermore there should be clear, explicit and public SOPs for the operations of cybercrime wings to ensure that complainants are able to follow the required procedures effectively.
- Inclusion of cybercrime laws, internet governance, digital forensics and digital rights into the curriculum of the judiciary and law enforcement.
- Gender sensitization for law enforcement, prosecutors, court staff and judges in order to handle cases relating to online violence with effectiveness, sensitivity and an understanding of the gendered risks that women and gender minorities face online.
- Adoption of technology and video-based testimony to ensure timely hearing of cases by courts while ensuring public health and safety protocols during the pandemic.
- Develop a mechanism to deal with cases in foreign jurisdictions, i.e. cases where: either the accused or the complainant is located outside Pakistan. Pakistan is not a signatory to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which sets up a regime for international cooperation on cybercrime.
- Develop a Rapid Response Cell which can respond to urgent cases where leaked information can harm personal safety or cause immediate reputational harm, a rapid response cell that is operational 24/7 should be established in addition to the regular operations of the NR3C. Cases marked as urgent should be expedited and dealt with on a priority basis.
- Greater technical expertise for digital forensics and investigation: Several complaints to the NR3C experience a substantial investigative delay or are dropped altogether due to lack of technical abilities of officers and technologies available to the FIA.
- Develop a case Management system: complainants should be able to track and receive updates periodically on the status of their case through an online system. Digital copies of the case file and evidence filed should be stored on a secure server to ensure reliable duplicates in case the original case file is lost or tampered with.
- Develop clear, accessible and publicly available Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on privacy, confidentiality, and protection of evidentiary data and identity of the complainants at FIA
- Performance review of investigators and prosecutors: complainant should be able to register concerns regarding their assigned officers to a presiding officer for each regional zone, which should automatically trigger independent and transparent inquiry.
- Establish channels of communication between police stations and cybercrime stations to ensure that cases can be easily transferred and there is clarity as to where a particular case should be registered, investigated and prosecuted.
- Data protection legislation should be promulgated to protect the fundamental right to privacy of citizens
- More collaboration with civil society organizations through public-private partnerships to ensure that public institutions work collaboratively with civil society and academia to complement each other’s work. Potential collaborations on awareness campaigns on digital safety during Covid-19 are recommended.
- Pakistan Telecommunication Authority should facilitate and develop mechanisms to ensure uninterrupted remote operations of state and non-state telephonic Helplines in order to provide support and help to the victims/survivors of violence and harassment, which has increased under lockdown.
The complete report can be accessed here: Covid-19 and Cyber Harassment