LAHORE - The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), in its report of first four months of operation for its Cyber Harassment Helpline, said majority of complaints were received about Facebook fake profile being used for blackmailing.

The complaints showed surge in pattern of ‘cyber harassment’ in Punjab, the report shows.

In first four months, the DRF helpline received 513 individual complaints. The total number of calls was 535, with 406 of them being individual cases. Around 62% of the calls were made by women, whereas 37% of the callers were men.

The platform where people face the most harassment was found to be Facebook and most of the complaints were regarding fake profiles, non consensual use of information, blackmailing, unsolicited messages and hacked accounts or devices.

Majority of the cases received by the helpline were from Punjab (41.3%) whereas 23.90% individuals did not disclose their location. Calls were also received from Sindh (17.8%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (4.70%), Balochistan (1.30%), Azad Kashmir (0.70%), Federal Territory (10.10%) and outside Pakistan (0.20%).

“Nature of cyber harassment complaints we have received so far include: blackmailing, fake profiles, Rape threats, hacking and death threats,” said Nighad Dad, founder and executive director of Digital Rights Foundation.

Other nature of cyber harassment includes people seeking information, fake profile, blackmailing, online stalking, gender based bullying, non-consensual porn, doxxing, threat, financial fraud, non-consensual photoshopped, threats physical/sex violence and non cooperative social media.

Nighat told The Nation that the Cyber Harassment Helpine seeks to provide a safe space for people to articulate their experiences. “We hope to use their (public) trust to advocate for reform in the laws and LEAs and to amplify their voices.

“As our report shows, online violence and harassment is a prevalent problem and needs to be taken seriously,” she added.

After assessing the overwhelming number of cases, the DRF report has identified some recommendations for law enforcement agencies and the government. The Foundation has recognised the need for further improvement within FIA’s National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C).

The NR3C is understaffed with limited resources which are why there are delays in registration and investigation of cases pertaining to cyber harassment.

The foundation has proposed gender-sensitisation training for FIA’s staff, along with recruitment of female Investigative Officers (IOs). The FIA’s National Response Centers for Cyber Crime needs to be expanded to more cities, as they are currently limited to major cities of Pakistan, which restricts the accessibility to justice and is a deterrent to reporting for many women living in smaller cities or remote locations.

Launched on 1st December last year, the Cyber Harassment Helpline is Pakistan’s first dedicated helpline addressing issues of online abuse and violence providing a free, safe, gender-sensitive and confidential service.

According to reports, more than 3,000 cyber crimes were reported to Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in 2016 and 45 per cent of those targeted were women using social media website Facebook.