February 18th, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
The Information Technology ministry is working on a proposal to designate provincial police and counter-terrorism departments as investigation agencies in addition to the Federal Investigation Agency under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), sources have revealed to Voicepk.net.
Under Section 29 of PECA, the federal government has the power to designate a law enforcement agency as the investigation agency for the purposes of the probe of offenses under the cybercrime law. The sources said the IT ministry would be moving a summary on the proposed designation of provincial police forces/counter-terrorism departments as investigation agencies under the cybercrime law to the federal cabinet in the coming days.
“After the cabinet’s approval, the IT ministry would issue a notification to designate police/CTDs in the provinces as investigation agencies,” the sources said. The move came on the insistence of the Prime Minister’s Office in the wake of rising incidents of religious polarisation and hate speech leading to incidents like mob lynching of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot recently, the sources said.
According to the PMO’s rationale, provincial CTD/police force would be able to deal more effectively with cybercrime and terrorism gave their greater resources in terms of manpower and offices as FIA has just over a dozen offices in the entire country to handle offenses as a lone investigation agency under the cybercrime law.
“Once designated as investigation agency, provincial police/CTDs would be able to take cognizance of hate speech and cyber defamation under PECA. The IT ministry had initially objected to PMO’s suggestion of designation of provincial law enforcement agencies as investigation agencies under the cybercrime, citing issues of capacity and public image, the sources said.
In the ministry’s opinion, provincial law enforcement agencies lacked requisite training to investigate cybercrimes as well as forensic laboratories.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Nighat Dad, Founder of Digital Rights Foundation, said the federal government should hold consultations with relevant stakeholders if it wanted to give powers to the police to investigate cybercrimes.
“The FIA is handling offenses of cybercrime for some years and you cannot arbitrarily add another law enforcement agency to handle such offenses,” she added.
According to Nighat Dad, the PECA is a very technical law and the empowerment of police under it would not bode well for vulnerable women and children whom it was enacted to protect. “There have been questions raised on the FIA’s arbitrary powers to arrest accused under PECA,” she said.
Nighat Dad pointed out that the FIA had sprung into action to arrest an accused in cyber defamation over a federal minister’s complaint but has yet to arrest another accused who was sharing indecent pictures of a woman for months. The track record of police in helping women and children did not merit giving them powers to investigate cybercrime cases under PECA, she said.
Voicepk.net contacted Syed Aminul Haq, Federal Minister for Information Technology, for comments over his ministry’s plan to designate police/CTDs as investigation agency under the cybercrime law but he did not respond to calls and texts sent on his cellphone till filing of this report.