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Hasty transition – Newspaper – DAWN.COM | #cybercrime | #computerhacker

OUT of nowhere, the government has launched a new cybercrime authority: the National Cyber Crimes Investigation Agency. This move to replace the FIA’s cybercrime wing raises substantial concerns about the motive behind it. The NCCIA is mandated to handle offences under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which, activists allege, was used routinely by the FIA to silence dissent. Of course, conversely, bad actors use social media to spread disinformation and misinformation, necessitating oversight. But at a time when digital rights and privacy remain key issues for the state to address, the authorities have opted to forgo any meaningful dialogue with digital rights groups, the IT sector, or even the public. Such an opaque approach fosters distrust and scepticism towards the government’s intentions. It has neither presented a clear rationale nor demonstrated the deficiencies within the existing framework that necessitated this move. The reuse of the FIA’s resources — personnel, assets, and existing cases — under a new banner raises a fundamental question: what exactly is the objective of the NCCIA that the FIA could not achieve? If the goal was to enhance capabilities or streamline operations, would it not have been more prudent to bolster the existing framework rather than dismantle it? The abruptness of the move suggests the new rulers are not behind it.

The move will likely create redundancies and confusion, diluting the focus from actual cybercrime threats to the procedural chaos of transitioning to a new agency. Also, such disruptions could hinder ongoing operations and complicate international cooperation under links nurtured by the FIA. Furthermore, the NCCIA, with its broad and unclear mandate, could potentially lead to increased surveillance and data collection practices, encroaching upon the personal liberties of citizens under the guise of security. It appears the PML-N government is working in the same manner as when Peca was being promulgated, when no input was taken. The situation has called into question the regulatory environment for the internet in the coming years. Ostensibly, the aim is to exert greater control over social media and to gain more power to crack down on activists, dissidents and journalists critical of state policies.

The government owes the public an explanation of the necessity and aims of the NCCIA. It must articulate how this new set-up will better serve the cybersecurity needs of the nation without compromising democratic freedoms. It is also crucial that further developments in this area involve a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Engaging with experts in digital rights, cybersecurity, the legal domain, and the public is essential to ensure that the agency’s operations are balanced, effective, and respectful of the rights it is purportedly designed to protect. The urge to police social media must be resisted.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2024


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