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Experts warn new cyber crime agency may suppress dissent – Voicepk.net | #cybercrime | #computerhacker


May 6, 2024

By Bilal Baseer


ISLAMABAD

The government of Pakistan on May 3, 2024 announced the formation of the National Cyber Crime Investigation Agency (NCCIA), replacing the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing. The NCCIA is aimed at combating cybercrimes and enforcing social media regulations in the country.

According to a gazette notification issued by the government of Pakistan, the powers of FIA’s Cyber Crime Investigation Wing have been revoked. Cybercrime investigations will now fall under the purview of the newly established National Cyber Crime Investigation Agency (NCCIA) that will operate under the Federal Ministry of Interior. However, it is not clear when the new agency will commence its operations.

The NCCIA, created for cybercrime investigations, is being enacted under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016. Previously, these powers were held by the FIA under the Act.

It is pertinent to mention that some political parties and civil organizations had vehemently opposed the enactment of the Peca. Now, under the same act, the NCCIA has been established for cybercrime investigations.

The government sources have stated the new agency will be empowered to handle cybercrime cases autonomously, with dedicated offices and a forensic laboratory.

Sources within the interior ministry have revealed that the government plans to allocate greater resources to the new agency than those previously available to the FIA’s Cyber Crime Investigation Wing, and that funds will be earmarked for this purpose in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The government notification does not specify the number of officers to be appointed to the new agency. However, it has been mentioned that the director general (DG) of the agency – at least grade 21 or less than 63 years of age – will serve a two-year term, extendable for another two years based on performance. The DG must possess a minimum of 15 years of experience in computer science, digital forensics, cyber technology, law, public administration, and information technology.

Further, the DG will retire at the age of 65 or upon completion of the tenure, with powers equivalent to those of the Inspector General of Police under the Police Order 2002. Investigative officers and their subordinates will operate within the agency under the provisions of the Police Order 2002. Employees from the Cyber Crime Wing of the FIA will serve on deputation in the NCCIA.

The establishment of the NCCIA was announced on April 24 through a notification, but it was published in the gazette of Pakistan on April 29.

During a joint press conference on May 2, Federal Minister for Law, Azam Nazeer Tarar and Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Ataullah Tarar said that the FIA does not have the required skills to deal with cybercrime and does not have a forum for digital rights.

A former officer of the FIA told Voicepk that his colleagues had repeatedly urged the government to transfer such responsibilities to provincial police departments due to FIA’s lack of resources and equipment.

He mentioned that under the previous regulation, cybercrime cases were to be registered with the FIA rather than the police. “But, since the FIA is primarily located in major cities, individuals residing outside these areas often encountered difficulties in lodging complaints.”

The abrupt establishment of the NCCIA has surprised Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist. “It seems consultations with stakeholders did not take place prior to its formation.”

He added that there appears to be little justification for creating the NCCIA, especially considering individuals from the FIA will likely staff it. “The purpose of this action appears to be to silence journalists, human rights workers and critics of government policies.”

Imaan Zainab Mazari, a cybercrime and human rights advocate, said that while the FIA Cyber Crime Wing has not proven effective in addressing cyber-related offenses, concerns arise that the new agency may face similar shortcomings and challenges.

Mazari noted that the original purpose of the Peca was to suppress dissent and it appears that the new agency shares this objective.

Barrister Mian Ali Ashfaq, a senior lawyer, expressed suspicion that the current government intends to propose amendments to Peca in the near future. “Such amendments could be detrimental, potentially granting state institutions further powers to infringe on others, with the government facilitating such actions.”

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