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June 3, 2020 - Comments Off on COVID 19 and Cyber Harassment: DRF Releases Lockdown Numbers

COVID 19 and Cyber Harassment: DRF Releases Lockdown Numbers

DRF established the Cyber Harassment Helpline in December 2016. The services we’ve offered since then include, legal support to online harassment victims as well as digital security assistance and also psychological counseling of victims. 

As Pakistan entered its lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we feared there would be an increase in cyber-harassment cases as well as cyber attacks in general. To explore this possibility we analyzed the data from our Cyber Harassment Helpline from the months of March and April 2020 and compared it to the data from January and February 2020, to compare how cases have grown in the lockdown. Given that the pandemic became a public health emergency in Pakistan in March 2020, we feel that the comparison can reflect the changing patterns of online harassment and violation in relation to the social ramifications of COVID-19 This analysis is being released in the form of a policy brief and includes a list of recommendations for concerned stakeholders. 

As compared to January and February, March and April saw an increase of 189% in complaints registered with our Cyber Harassment Helpline. 74% of the cases in March and April were reported by women, 19% by men, and 5% by gender non-binary persons. When the lockdown was enforced in March, for the safety of our employees, we had to close our office as well as shut down our Helpline’s toll-free number. This massive bump in recorded complaints came through email and our social media. 

We have found that “the forms of gendered violence that are largely directed at women in the digital sphere usually include sexual harassment, surveillance, unauthorized use and dissemination of personal data, and manipulation of personal information including images and videos. This form of violence acts as a significant barrier to women’s expression of themselves as well as meaningful engagement with the internet. A majority of the cases that the Digital Rights Foundation’s cyber harassment helpline received digitally during lockdown (April and May) pertained to blackmailing through non-consensual sharing of information, intimate pictures and videos.” 

Alongside this data, we are also releasing a list of 14 recommendations for relevant stakeholders. These cover issues of the FIA’s accessibility especially during the pandemic, and also how technology needs to be used hand in hand while dealing with harassment cases, like allowing for video testimonies etc. 

During the pandemic, the cyber harassment helpline has been working hard to provide uninterrupted services to complainants of online harassment, while ensuring the safety and well-being of our staff. Early in the lockdown period, we switched exclusively to online platforms, however, we have restored the toll-free number through cooperation from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and PTCL.

Our full policy brief is attached to this email. For more information on this policy brief and on the work of our Cyber Harassment team, you can get in touch with them using this email: 

[email protected] 

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Blog

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