Online Safety Against Cyber Harassment During COVID

With COVID-19 posing a threat to everyone around the world and in Pakistan, people are forced to remain within the confines of their home as lockdowns and social distancing continue. One coping mechanism and probably the only thing keeping us sane has been the internet. From virtual classrooms and online board meetings to Instagram stories and Hangout sessions with friends, the internet has been a lifesaver for many of us during these difficult times.

While the internet has helped keep many busy and comfortable within their homes, it has also continued to pose a dangerous threat to many around the world. Given the boredom and frustration of staying indoors, people are also more likely to be vulnerable online and fall victim to cyber harassment. From fake accounts and abusive exes blackmailing people to the experimenting on dating apps and blossoming of relationships on gaming apps, the cyber world is full of all kinds of people on all types of mediums right now.

Parents and guardians must remain vigilant about what their children are exposed to on the internet. While most children are getting away with a lot of ‘tablet time’ these days, it is very important that the use of online devices be monitored. Parental controls should be activated and regularly checked to make sure no inappropriate content or cyber predator is able to engage with children. If your child is using a device for online classes, be aware and vigilant of what else they can access.

Cyber harassment and cyber bullying have been on the rise across the world in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Thus, it is imperative for everyone to know what their rights are and how the law can help, especially against someone making a fake social media account of you, misusing your pictures, blackmailing you regarding any personal information, or stalking you on various platforms.

If you, or any minor you know, has been a victim of online harassment, you can either lodge a complaint on the FIA’s website, nr3c.gov.pk, or the Pakistan Citizen Portal App under the Media/Cyber Crimes section. Both allow you to communicate your grievances and alert the relevant authorities to contact you.

As per section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, offences against the dignity of a natural person, including harming the reputation of a person, can lead to imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or a fine which may extend to one million rupees, or both. Section 21 provides that an offence against the modesty of a natural person can lead to imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or a fine which may extend to five million rupees, or both. Moreover, if the said offence under section 21 has been committed against a minor, then a stricter punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and a fine which may extend to five million rupees may be imposed.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, along with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Rules 2018, covers a wide ambit of cyber crimes and allows victims of cyber crime to come forward and seek justice. According to the 2018 Rules, the Cyber Crime Wing set up by the FIA is to follow all investigations falling under the 2016 Act. These investigations are to be handled with the utmost care to privacy and caution thereby incentivizing victims to step forward and lodge a complaint.

The National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes, which can be accessed on the FIA website, sets out multiple cyber crime categories. The laws and regulations on cyber harassment have also been laid out clearly. Unfortunately, most remain unheard of.

With the panic of COVID-19 forcing us to remain indoors and find relief on the internet, people are encouraged to engage with the cyber world maturely and alert the relevant agencies regarding any incidents of cyber crime. By initiating complaints against cyber perpetrators, a lot of vulnerable people can be protected from online abuse and harassment. Like other criminals, those behind a screen should also be punished for their acts and this will only be possible once people start filing legal complaints against them.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.

Faiza Asad

Author: Faiza Asad

The writer is a Barrister and Junior Associate at a law firm, pursuing civil and criminal litigation in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

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