Data Protection Awareness in Pakistan
To a lot of people, the world does not appear to be very pleasant as it goes deeper into the sea of technology which corresponds to an era where our everyday lives are based on the use of technology and the gadgets derived from it. It is often said that like many things in this world, technology also has its pros and cons, and while that is true, no one seems to be taking any steps to highlight the measures to address the cons.
Data is regarded as one of the most valuable assets in the world today. With global technology conglomerates like Facebook and Google allegedly feeding on it, it has surely become worth a fortune. With so much value, it also attracts many people who try to gain access to it in one way or another. Users of social media often face different types of data appropriation by strangers but they seem to have no clue about how to address the issue. Moreover, incidents such as the appropriation of pictures, videos, screenshots or other material that would rather not have been intended to be opened publicly, often lead to threats, cyber-bullying, harassment and other crimes and inconveniences for the person to whom such information relates.
Appropriation of data and information is not limited to the internet though. Recently, information including contact numbers, residential addresses and family information of female students had allegedly been leaked from the database of a reputable Lahore based university, which categorically fell under the ambit of criminal activities such as stalking, harassment, threatening, bullying, etc. Similarly, data appropriation of customers using app-based ride-sharing services (such as Uber and Careem) by their drivers has also been commonly reported, whereby the drivers tend to harass customers, especially women. This article aims to highlight such appropriation of data in order to educate people about the legal remedies and legislation available for protection.
The main legal instrument relevant to data protection and cyber-crimes available in Pakistan is the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, which focuses on recognizing cyber-crimes as legitimate crimes and offer legal remedies to victims.
A very common form data appropriation is unauthorized access to information (which was precisely the case with the information leak from the educational institution mentioned above). Such unauthorized access is addressed by Section 3 of the Act which lays out imprisonment for up to three months and/or a fine of up to PKR 50,000 for anyone who is found guilty of gaining access to information for which he or she has not been authorized.
Another section, section 16(1) and (2), deals with the appropriation of identity information, and states that any unauthorized person who gains access, uses or transmits (spreads) someone’s identity information could be sentenced to three years in prison and/or a fine of PKR 5 million. If the information has also been transmitted online after gaining unauthorized access, the victim can approach the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) which is then obligated under the same section to take any measures deemed appropriate. So the appropriation of information by ride-sharing drivers can also be addressed if victims start using the remedies available to them under this section.
The act of getting someone’s information through technological means and then using it to force, harass, threaten, or stalk that person constitutes cyber-stalking, which is a federal crime as per section 24 of PECA, under which the offender can be sentenced to 3 years in prison and liable to pay a fine of up to PKR one million. Any student of the concerned university or any ride-sharing passenger who has been harassed after the leak of her or his information can bring a claim under this law. However, a prevailing issue in our country is that young victims often feel forced to take drastic decisions because of the psychological stress they go through as a result of an incident.
Section 4 prohibits the copying and transmitting of information by an unauthorized person. This not only includes the spread of corporate data and that of the state, but also the disapproved spread of pictures, videos or any other data. Offenders can be sentenced for up to six months in prison or fined up to PKR 100,000. Such offences are very commonly committed, especially against women in our society, hence the availability of a legal remedy and punishment would help combat the issues.
Section 21 further deals with this issue. It states that if someone publicly exhibits any type of sexual conduct, precisely through videos or pictures, that person would be in breach of the Act and punished with 5 years in prison and/or fined up to PKR 5 million. Using such content to blackmail a person and receive gains is also prohibited under this section. We come across many incidents in which inappropriate images, videos, snapshots, etc. are obtained from a person who is then subjected to brutal blackmailing and threatened with the exhibition or exposing of the content. People have ended up paying a lot of money to such offenders. This section protects them from being blackmailed.
As far as cyber-crime in educational institutions is concerned, going after the actual perpetrator can be difficult as investigative measures may not be adequate and the accused may not be proved guilty subsequently. However, victims can also go after the organizations for data leaks, not for committing the act themselves but for omissions i.e. failing to prevent such offences from occurring.
To bring a claim under the aforementioned provisions, victims can sue the relevant person in any court of law with the appropriate jurisdiction and argue to establish a breach of any of the relevant sections. Claims regarding cyber-crimes, harassment and bullying can also be made to the Federal Investigation Agency through the National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C). Acts related to cyber-bullying, misuse of pictures, transmitting of information, etc. are included within the matters dealt by FIA. Acts of threatening to leak information and pictures, especially of a sexual nature or involving nudity, are often reported to and dealt by the agency which will then take any relevant and cooperative measures.
Legal awareness in this society is extremely essential, unfortunately, people tend to overlook the existing laws and succumb to pressure. Many lives have been lost due to online scams and other offences being committed involving harassment and blackmailing while the promulgated legal provisions have not been made aware of. Laws are made by the government for us and it is only wise that we use them to help ourselves and hold the legislators and the executive accountable for lack of effective implementation.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.