Kathmandu, December 10
Rabina (name changed), a 17-year-old nursing student, was shocked when a stranger called and told her that he had created five fake Facebook accounts in her name and posted obscene pictures with morphed images of her face. The man, who introduced himself as Chutu Jha, later told her he was willing to deactivate those accounts, but on condition that she meet him in private.
For three months, she managed to turn down his request, all the while praying that her family members, relatives and friends do not stumble upon those fake accounts. Then one day she mustered courage and visited the Cyber Crime Unit of Metropolitan Police Crime Division at Teku to report the case.
It’s been six months since she filed a written complaint. She has also provided the police with the phone number that perpetrator used to call her. But the person is yet to be rounded up.
Rumita (name changed), a Bachelor’s degree student at Saraswoti Multiple College, is facing similar ordeal. The resident of Sindhuli has also filed a police complaint. But like in Rabina’s case the offender has not been arrested.
“I made a mistake by accepting friend request of an unknown person, who had posed as a girl,” said Rumita. She came to know about this after he started harassing her to video chat. “When I refused he started posting obscene materials in my account,” she said. “Later he even created a fake account and posted obscene pictures with morphed images of my face.”
Rabina and Rumita are two of around 20 persons who visit the MPCD every day to complain about identity theft on Facebook. Majority of the victims are girls aged 14 to 24, according to the police.
The Cyber Crime Unit, which operates from a makeshift tent at Teku, consists of six police personnel. These police spend most of their time recording the complaints and hardly have any time left to conduct investigation. “Almost 90 per cent of the complaints we get are related to crime committed through Facebook,” said Police Inspector Lila Raj Dangi, head of the unit.
There are around 920,000 Facebook users in the country and over 52 per cent of them are below 25, according to Anil Raghuvanshi, president of ChildSafeNet, which generates awareness about cybercrime among youngsters.
This number is expected to further grow as more and more people are gaining access to mobile internet and fixed broadband services. Currently, around 63 per cent of the population has access fixed broadband and mobile internet services like 2G and 3G.
“With the rise in the number of social media users, criminal cases are also expected to go up,” Dangi acknowledged. Yet police do not seem prepared to thwart this challenge. “The biggest problem that we are facing at the moment is lack of access to Facebook data to locate the offenders,” Dangi said.
Facebook doesn’t have an office in Nepal. “So, we have to communicate with Facebook officials in Hong Kong to obtain information about access points or IP addresses of offenders. But they have turned down our request multiple times in the past,” said Dangi.
Deputy Inspector General of Nepal Police Rajiv Subba who is also an ICT expert said that only possible way to curb the problem is, the government should take an initiation to form a trans-national mechanism that works as a component of Interpol which can exchange the needed data related to any criminal activities from social media. “The leaders of BIMSTEC member states or SAARC member countries for instance can jointly work on this and can obtain the data from India based Facebook office.”
Ram Chandra Dhakal, joint secretary of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology said that the only way to deal with this problem is to frame national laws on social media. “Once we have legal framework, we can direct social media sites like Facebook to conduct operations here as per the law of the land or exit,” said Dhakal.
While absence of laws may have prevented authorities from nabbing the perpetrators, police also seem to be deliberately making delays in rounding up offenders.
In Rabina’s case, for instance, police did not do anything despite gaining access to perpetrator’s mobile number. The police could have traced the location of the offender and taken action against him, as the phone used by him is still switched on.
“The police have just issued an arrest warrant against him,” said Rabina. “Hope they will round him up soon.”
A version of this article appears in print on December 11, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.