Hoor Asrar points out the weakness in cyber
Lack Of Internet Access And Cyber Warfare – The most important tool of ensuring control of factors that determine decision making process is media. Media contains the important faculty of framing perception and psychological frame of mind of the people. Pakistan faces the twin issues of lack of access to internet of majority of population and the raging cyber warfare. Access to information is a fundamental right yet the fact that there are still areas in Pakistan without internet services despite the government’s promises points out to lack of commitment on part of the state authorities in ensuring fulfillment of this constitutional guarantee. In Pakistan, digital policies seem to lack ownership as it is witnessed that successive governments as well as state institutions have been more intent on policing the internet than enabling access and promoting its use to improve human development. The cost of this failure to imagine the economic possibilities and social empowerment that the internet opens up is ultimately being paid by the most disenfranchised among the people.
This subject has elicited many reports about the complex relationship between human rights and information and communication technologies and it has been found out Pakistan remained among the world’s worst performers in terms of internet access and digital governance. In this respect, it is highlighted that despite an increase in internet penetration, approximately 15 per cent of the population still lacked access to the internet and mobile or telecom services. This difficulty is exacerbated by a lack of inclusivity and digital literacy, one of the biggest global gender gaps in access and a struggle to stay online due to load-shedding and blackouts brought on by an energy crisis and catastrophic floods.
The focus in such reappraisals is on measuring internet inclusion in terms of availability, affordability, relevance and readiness and Pakistan has nothing to be proud of. The current global environment has made the need for internet access even more evident as any failure to improve conditions may widen inequalities between on-and-offline populations. Though there are several improvements that Pakistan has made to improve internet access particularly in affordability due to market competition and lowering mobile phone costs. The most pressing issue appears to be digital gender parity with a large percentage of Pakistani females being out of loop. The situation could be gauged by the fact that Pakistan ranked last out of 22 countries in Asia overall and 79 globally across the key indicators of availability, affordability, relevance and readiness. Pakistan had the widest gender gap in mobile ownership of all countries surveyed with just half of women owning a mobile phone, as compared to over 75 per cent of men.
Pakistani cyber scenario also suffers from more-than-needed regulatory provisions that impede the activity instead of keeping within propriety levels. The problem has become problematic with regards to digital governance as both the federal and provincial governments introduced a number of online initiatives but the momentum for a ‘Digital Pakistan,’ championed by the previous government, was hobbled by political upheaval as well as existential economic and climate crises. In absolute contrast however the lofty dreams of a progressive and competitive ʻDigital Pakistan’ all set to redefine the future were truly dead with only haphazard gains made in some areas, largely driven by private enterprise or the rulings and hard work of a few dedicated individuals or teams. It is also considered that the floods in Pakistan severely damaged the telecom and internet infrastructure leaving thousands of flood-affected individuals and relief workers without means of communication during the emergency and for some time after.
The cyber world in Pakistan is mired cybercrime that saw a steady rise with over 100,000 complaints registered last year marking the highest number in the last five years. It was also mentioned that women continue to face widespread harassment and blackmail online that has depressed internet consumption overall. Another difficulty is that cases of blasphemy accusations originating from or connected to the digital space remained prevalent, with no meaningful action taken to address the issue. This issue has become of extreme concern not only within the country but has also cast negative impression abroad with complaints mushrooming all around of cybercrime increasing tremendously. It is pointed out that the online environment remains perilous with the threat of blasphemy allegations, online campaigning, mob organising and subsequent violence, including lynching. It further stated that in the past year, disinformation proliferated online reaching new levels of sophistication and influence. The existing environment created by the state and local actors provided fertile ground for such attempts to succeed.
The issue of the state excessively controlling the online space has become quite serious. This intimidation of the state authorities includes filing cases against journalists, activists and political opponents for expressing unfavourable views on social media. Moreover the state is directly and indirectly devising and approving stringent defamation laws to suppress dissent and is trying to gag media on this account. It is also now quite clear that this aspect pertaining to internet space has become a national issue with the consistent leakages of incriminatory conversations often leaked to harm individuals and institutions.
The problems state institutions are compelled to tackle is the increasing ambit of cyber warfare. Media around the world is extensively interlinked through networks which not only makes information to disseminate easily but also make media more susceptible to strategic cyber warfare. There is always the potential to hijack media networks and use them to design practices that may make or break reputations of decision making apparatus. In addition these tools could be used to induce fear amongst segments of population and could also be employed to spread chaos within polities.
Cyber warfare is a new and novel phenomenon of waging war that took shape with the giant strides taken by the electronic technology in the 21st century. This unique phenomenon revolutionised the communication practices and enabled interaction through media that were easily accessible. This process also had the potential to disseminate information to widest possible audience globally and that too with no loss of time. These qualities provided the cyber technique an ability to transcend all other competitors and let its perpetrators tremendous advantage. In contemporary global scenario cyber techniques have been used as an instrument by means of excising control and gaining widespread approval and acceptability. This particular objective is achieved by using effective law enforcement and by providing a secure and pluralistic environment to rational decision makers to properly direct decision making.
The destructive potential of relatively new cyber warfare is very high because it is pre-dominantly a form of information warfare through use of the internet and related technologies by governmental and non-governmental agencies that carry the potential to damage or disrupt activities or systems of an adversary. An offshoot of cyber warfare is cyber-terrorism that pertains to use of cyber-warfare techniques by groups or individuals operating independently of state dispensations. In this context a number of states have expressed feared that they possess active cyber-warfare programmes that are also programmed to tackle cyber-terrorism. However, it is pointed out in this respect that the elements involved in negative cyber activities have the capability to carry out attacks against websites of governmental and private organisations engaged in providing public services. The Weekender
Hoor Asrar Rauf has remained a national swimming champion and recently
completed all requirements for MSc in Global Hospitality Business from EHL-Switzerland, Polytechnic University-Hong Kong & Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership-University of Huston, USA.