PTA offers to transfer monitoring of electronic crimes to FIA

News Source: Dawn

ISLAMABAD: In a strange move, the country’s major information technology and telecom regulatory body on Tuesday offered to surrender its role of monitoring electronic crimes to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

“The FIA has the capacity and expertise to approach the subject from an angle of fighting crime,” FIA director general for internet policy and web analysis Nisar Ahmed told the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology.

The committee met for a briefing by the FIA’s National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes about its mandate and initiatives taken to curb social media offences, including kidnapping of children for pornography, harassment and blackmailing, and steps taken in this regard.

The committee was informed that under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016, specifically sections 22 and 37, the role of monitoring content and blocking rests with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

However, the FIA is the designated authority to investigate cases of cybercrime.

Mr Ahmed informed the committee that the PTA rules under Peca on how to scrutinise online content were still under process since the law had been passed two years ago.

“PTA is only blocking content that too mostly on complaints from individuals. Some content is filtered through the industry and some through website administrators,” he told the committee.

PTA chairman Mohammad Naveed informed the committee that his department lacked the capacity to block content and did it manually only.

“We require millions of dollars of investment to install web management systems. The present monitoring equipment only checks the menace of grey traffic,” he told the committee.

The FIA, however, strongly felt that roles of monitoring and inquiries of cybercrimes should rest with the investigation agency, as exercised worldwide.

“Our hands are tied. Investigation is victim-based under the law. We must have the legal powers of monitoring and investigation to prevent cybercrime. This is necessary to fight crime,” director of FIA’s Cybercrime Wing retired Captain Mohammad Shoaib informed the committee.

He said the rules and procedures under Peca to approach and investigate cybercrime were approved last month, which were made in line with the Act.

Before Peca was passed two years ago, civil society and the IT industry, which opposed what they called a draconian law, strongly objected to giving the FIA both content monitoring and investigation powers.

Nonetheless, Senate committee chairperson Rubina Khalid, who believes in giving more powers to the investigation authority, directed both the PTA and FIA to get together to propose necessary amendments that would empower the FIA further within one week.

She said the Senate committee supported the idea of giving more authority to the FIA to monitor online content.

“The future of our generations is at stake here. Kidnapping of children to film pornographic content is a serious offence,” the PPP senator said.

Ms Khalid urged the PTA to check defamation of politicians on social media under Peca.

“Politicians do not mind healthy satire, but cannot tolerate insults,” she said.

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