Cyber Crimes, Beware!
Cybercrime, in its simplest connotation, means a crime in which a computer or an information technology system is either the object of a crime or is a tool for the commission or completion of an offence. The motives behind this form of crime range from using computer technology for accessing personal information, business or trade secrets to the use of the internet for exploitive or malicious purposes. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) segregates cybercrime into three branches: firstly, crimes in which a computing device is the target; secondly, crimes in which a computer is used as a weapon; and thirdly, crimes in which a computer is used as an accessory to a crime. In all categories, the computer is common and it is needless to narrate that the mobile is the modern form of computer. Some most common forms of cybercrimes repeated worldwide are mentioned below, and their relevant provisions in the PECA are also explained.
1. Electronic Financial Frauds
It is the most common form of cybercrime. It includes all fraudulent activities committed through online means for gaining illegal financial benefits. According to FIA-issued Cyber Crime Book, 20218 complaints of this category were registered in the year 2020 alone. Besides what is in black and white, I wonder if anyone is still left in Pakistan who has not yet received a call pretending to be an authorized caller from some Bank or Benazir Income Support Programme. Such impersonators usually ask for personal information, bank codes, or sometimes directly for money. In most of such cases, prey is illiterate strata of the society. Deceptive online shops or social media pages displaying eye-catching offers are also an important medium of digital financial frauds.
Electronic financial frauds are punishable under section 14 of PECA with imprisonment up to two years or with fine which may extend to ten million rupees or with both.
2. Cyber Stalking
It is also called cyber harassment. It refers to the use of internet-based facilities with intent to coerce, intimidate or harass someone. It includes repeated and unwelcomed messages, unauthorized following on social media, spying and taking photo or video of a person without his/her consent and disseminating it.
Such an act is declared an offence under section 24 of PECA. Cyber stalking is punishable with imprisonment of maximum three years in jail or with fine up to one million or with both. It must be borne in mind that in case the victim of cyber stalking is a minor, the term in jail may exceed up to five years and the fine to ten million rupees. We often observe that social media users, mostly unaware of the nature of their act, share and disseminate pictures or videos of other persons. Such an act, in some cases, may be construed as an offence of cyber stalking. Law-abiding citizens must be vigilant in this regard.
3. Defamation through Digital Means
Defamation, whether verbal or written, is an offence under Section 499 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860. In addition to the above-referred provision of law, publication of false information through online means (including websites, blogs, Facebook, email or WhatsApp) with intent to harm the reputation of a living person is also made an offence under section 20 of PECA.
The said defamatory act is construed as a violation of the dignity of a person and is held punishable with imprisonment for a period which may extend to three years or with a fine of a maximum of ten million rupees or with both.
Nowadays, people quite often share their views on social media forums; sometimes express their anger for politicians or others, unknown of the fact that they may be held answerable before law. A very recent example that can be quoted in this regard is the case against Reham Khan moved by Zulfiqar Bukhari in London. The lady had to tender an apology for her comments. One must be very vigilant while posting his views about others on social media.
4. Cyber Blackmailing or Publication of Private Information:
One may notice that cyber blackmailing is also on the rise since the mobile phone camera has become a common commodity. Recipient of private information like pictures, videos and messages of personal nature sometimes misuses the same for achieving his ulterior motives. Buying and selling of electronic devices also cause leakage of private info which might be misused by the receiver.
In this regard, intentional exhibition or display of sexually explicit pictures/videos of a natural person via any cyber-related means or threatening someone to exhibit or display the same is declared offense under section 21 of PECA, and it is punishable with imprisonment up to five years and fine of rupee five million or both.
5. Hate Speech
Another popular form of cybercrime in our society is hate speech. It may be religious, sectarian or ethnic in form. A public speech demonstrated through an information system (social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, etc) that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group of persons based on something such as religion or racial hatred is a declared offence under section 11 of PECA, and the same is punishable with seven years of imprisonment and fine.
It must be kept in the mind that not just making hate speech is an offence but disseminating such material is also an offence covered under section 11 aforesaid.
6. Cyber Terrorism
The offences of (i) unauthorized access to critical infrastructure or data, (ii) unauthorized copying or transmission of critical infrastructure or data, (iii) interference with critical infrastructure system or data, or (iv) glorification of any offense, become offence of Cyber Terrorism when any of such offence is done with one of the following intents:
(a) coerce, intimidate. create a sense of fear, panic or insecurity in the Government or the public or a section of the public or community or sect, or create a sense of fear or insecurity in society; or
(b) advance inter-faith, sectarian or ethnic hatred; or
(c) advance the objectives of organizations or individuals or groups proscribed under the law.
The act of cyber terrorism is punishable under section 10 of PECA, with imprisonment which may extent to fourteen years or with fine which may extend to fifty million rupees or with both.
7. Identity Theft
Identity theft is a crime in which someone wrongfully obtains a person’s personal data or information, and uses it in a way that involves fraud or deception, typically for wrongful gain. Section 16 of PECA says, ‘whoever obtains, sells, possesses, transmits or uses another person’s identity information without authorization shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to five million rupees, or with both’.
Besides the above major offences, some cyber techniques are also declared an offence by PECA. These include: spamming, spoofing, phishing, hacking, malware, computer virus transmission, etc. These shall be the subject of some future article. Presently, it is concluded that one must be vigilant and responsible enough to avoid committing any of the above offences while using the internet, because, ‘ignorance of law is no excuse’.
The writer is a former Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate, and holds LLM (Criminology) degree. He can be reached at email@example.com.