Digital Security Of Public Figures: A Grave Concern

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Update: Pakistan Tehrik-Insaf issued press release denouncing attacks on Bolta Pakistan Facebook Page.

Recently, the Facebook account of Bolta Pakistan, a popular TV talk show hosted by senior journalist Javed Nusrat, was hacked by a group calling itself the ‘Insaf Cyber Force’, clearly claiming affiliation with the Pakistan Tehrik-Insaf (PTI). We are seriously concerned about digital security especially for public figures, activists, and journalists.

It has not been established whether PTI members were involved in the hacking. We understand that it could be difficult for a political party to take responsibility for actions of their supporters, especially on the interwebs. While PTI has repeatedly blamed rival political parties of plotting attacks by posing to be PTI, the campaign and anti campaign between political parties greatly affects those attacked.

A few weeks back, Facebook pages of the PTI itself were hacked, therefore PTI’s social media team are aware of its devastating impact. Therefore, we expect PTI representatives to:
1. Inquire into the Facebook group claiming to be associated with them,
2. To make a statement disassociating themselves with supporters carrying out such activities, and
3. Set a precedent for political parties to consider online harassment and smear campaigns against journalists as a serious issue.

This case highlights the complexities in cyber crimes, where verification of identity, especially of hackers, is very difficult. It highlights the importance of digital security training for journalists and the public at large.

It also highlights the overall threats that the freedom of expression faces in Pakistan, where journalists and political parties, entities that are supposed to fight for the right of information and freedom of information, are embattled with difficulties threatening both, with many accusations often going against these entities themselves.

Points to consider:

1. Should political parties be responsible for the acts of members that seek to represent the party?
2. Political parties should have a specified policy on social media on their websites [disclaimers] seeing the increasing relevance of interaction online.
3.  The case highlights complexities in cyber-crime, what happens if an imposter hacks into an account, wrongful accusations because of improperly drafted legislation is a major concern.
4. Digital Security training for Journalists is crucial.