ISLAMABAD - As the International Internet Day is being marked today (October 29) globally, the government data shows that cyber and online crimes has increased largely in Pakistan in the last couple of years. 

According to an official document of the Ministry of Interior, the number of complaints about online crime being lodged with the Cyber Crime Wing of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has increased more than double during the last four year. 

The comparison of last four years’ official data shows that as many as 9,075 complaints of private citizens, government servants and public as well as private sector institutions were registered with the Cyber Crime Wing in 2016. This number grew a little as 9,364 such complaints were registered in 2017. 

The year 2018 witnessed a substantial increase of more than 100 percent as 19,014 complaints were registered by FIA the same year. The number of online crime complaints grew to 27,214 in 2019 which is another more than 50 percent increase as compared with the preceding year. 

Meanwhile, a local non-governmental organization in its report released on the eve of International Internet Day said that online space for dissent and freedom of expression in Pakistan had shrunk while a rise in censorship, hate speech, digital surveillance and breach of privacy and disinformation and misinformation online had been witnessed during 2020. 

Hate speech against religious minorities on social media and their online harassment were prevalent in 2020, says the State of Digital Rights in Pakistan Report 2020 issued by Freedom Network, an advocacy and research group.  

“Religious minorities, security agencies, human rights, gender, politics and development were identified as the main discussion themes online that elicited the most hostile reactions from detractors online,” the group said in its annual report released on Wednesday. 

The report said that online news media platforms in 2020 reported facing hate speech, hostility and organized targeting for their content related to religion, religious minorities and human rights and face threats, abuse, trolling, hacking, blocking and charges of treason from various threat actors including individuals, political parties, religious groups, unknown organized groups and even official sources. 

It said that while women were frequently targeted in honour killings and social sanctions in the physical world, this violence was seeping into the online sphere as well with threats of the violence enabled through digital devices. In 2020, data indicated a significant majority of women journalists not only faced online violence that impacted their personal and professional lives. “In 2020 dozens of women journalists came forward revealing increased vulnerability and technology related violence against them from various sources.” 

According to the group, concerns in Pakistan grew in 2020 about misinformation, disinformation and fake news as political polarisation grew. “Misinformation complaints spread principally through social media platforms.”