FIA watching social media to curb ‘anti-national propaganda, hate speech’

News Source: Dawn

By: Imran Ayub

KARACHI: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is claimed to have put in place a monitoring system following the government directives about a crackdown against those spreading extremism and hatred on social media and said it would not wait for any complaint to take action against any individual or group as legally it can take cognizance against anyone for “committing such an offence’.

A senior official confirmed that after the decision of the federal government, all three FIA cybercrime centres in Sindh — Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur — had been officially directed to keep a close eye on social media and all digital platforms.

“We have three centres of the cybercrime wing in Sindh,” said FIA Director Younus Chandio. “Heads of all these centres and their chain of command have formally been informed about the task and objective. We monitor social and digital media platforms regularly. After the government decision, more efforts are being made and we are more vigilant this time.”

Recently, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had stirred a storm by announcing that a crackdown was expected soon against extremism on social media as rights activists expressed scepticism about the move.

The agency can take legal action without receiving any formal complaint under cybercrime law

Addressing an event against religious extremism and counter-narrative organised by the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Studies, the minister had said that preparations had been made and the operation would be launched in a few weeks.

He said that a working group, led by the FIA and comprising other agencies, had been formed and a mechanism devised to curb hate speech on social media.

As shared by the minister, the FIA seems to have done its homework and practically initiated its job.

Mr Chandio, the FIA director, said that the agency would primarily keep an eye on hate speech, which could fall in both religious extremism and anti-national interest.

“The PECA 2016 [Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act] in fact covers all these aspects,” he said. “Apart from hate speech, we often see a campaign of false news, rumours and propaganda over social and digital media platforms. Section 22 of PECA 2016 in fact addresses the same area.”

Section 22 of the PECA reads: “A person commits the offence of spamming, who with intent transmits harmful, fraudulent, misleading, illegal or unsolicited information to any person without permission of the recipient or who causes any information system to show any such information for wrongful gain.”

When asked about the proposed mechanism for the “crackdown”, the FIA director said that in these cases the agency would not wait for any complaint to take action as it had all powers if it found any individual or group spreading hate speech or affecting the national interest negatively.

Referring to various posts on social media “maligning” the recent visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, he said: “We have seen recently that how an attempt is made through social media to malign the visit of a foreign dignitary. So we are monitoring these trends as well on social media platform like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.”

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