EVOLVING situations require constantly evolving regulatory mechanisms, and one area where Pakistan is lacking is in terms of internet safety — even though the World Wide Web and its benefits can hardly be said to be new realities. Last year, the Federal Investigation Agency received more than 1,000 complaints regarding cyber crime, particularly malicious stalking, the hijacking of social media accounts and faked identities or impersonation, but the country does not have laws that can be invoked in such situations. This forces the FIA to either redirect the complainant to the Ministry of Information Technology, or to the police, or in a few cases, invoke old laws that are insufficient.
Obviously, this glaring gap in the country’s legislative framework needs to be addressed. Yet whether the state has the stomach to do the needful in the wake of the technological revolution is a moot point. Consider, after all, the fact that it has been over a year since access to YouTube was cut off in the country. The piece of offensiveness that led to this is long forgotten, yet the state has not managed to come up with ways to put itself in a position where it can ask parent companies — Google, in the case of YouTube — for the removal of web content through doing the requisite inter-country paperwork, or find a method to filter content while leaving the sites in general accessible. Whether or not the state should even interfere in civil liberties by indulging in censorship is itself debatable. But even if there are extreme cases where this is deemed necessary, after consultation in parliament and with the public, the means to do so legally, transparently and with the least inconvenience must be devised. After the initial furore, those who have the know-how have found ways to circumvent the blockade; those who don’t have had to learn to do without. Legislators and politicians, otherwise so vocal about their commitment to citizens’ rights, have utterly failed to raise the matter again for redressal.