Criminals in our Inbox

Door to door marketing is not that common in Pakistan for a number of reasons. Even in other countries, technological developments in marketing and advertising have rendered door to door marketing redundant and marketing reps are extinct in most fields with only a few exceptions. But imagine it weren’t so. Imagine if door to door marketing was an often used advertising and marketing strategy employed by businesses in Pakistan. Now imagine if there were no rules or regulations in force to govern and regulate the use of door to door marketing strategies. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, any hour of the day any Tom, Dick or Harry – or Tina, Diana or Harriet – could come knocking on your door, or ringing your door bell, to introduce you to his/her company’s product or services.

Whenever there was a knock on the door and you had to walk all the way out, there was no way of knowing if it’s your mother, a friend, an invited visitor or just another uninvited, unsolicited walking talking advertisement to waste your time and energy. At first you may be ok with it; two or three reps visiting your abode to tell you about their interesting, cheap and useful products. But when the frequency reaches 20 to 30 per day, and most or all of the visits relate to products or services that have no utility for you, it can and most certainly will become a nuisance that you will want to stop. You may stop answering the knocks and bells and come up with a way to know when it is someone you were expecting like having them call you instead of knocking. Thankfully, this is just a hypothetical problem, or is it?

When I woke up this morning, I had one hundred and seventy three unread messages on my cell phone. I stopped checking and reading my messages a couple of days ago. I don’t even have the time to go through my messages and delete 20 to 30 useless spam messages every-day. I am a professional lawyer, and sometimes important messages from clients do get buried under the bulk of these unsolicited, useless spam messages. I don’t buy women’s clothing and I don’t wear them either, yet I have a number of messages from boutiques telling me which lawn print is in and which boutique is offering a sale. I don’t yet need tuitions for my children but every day I am told which academy offers what kinds of tuitions. I am happy with my caller tune; the conventional “toon toon”, and I don’t want Naseebo Lal, or Arijit Singh singing to whoever tries to call me, yet I have several messages offering different kinds of songs that my callers can hear while they wait for me to answer.

I am sure I am not the only one aboard this annoying, irritating, absolute nuisance of a ship. Every unfortunate soul who owns a cell-phone gets bombarded with a bulk of spam messages every day. Our numbers are obtained from our service providers by these businesses, or spam message senders hired by these businesses, and then the torture begins. Messages from family, friends, clients and acquaintances go unseen just because we are now used to our message tone beeping every five minutes and are 90 % certain that it’s just another spam message.

Well the good news is, and it may come as a surprise to many, that this is absolutely illegal. Most of us have heard of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016, but for the wrong reasons I am afraid. Section 25 of the Act makes it illegal to send unsolicited marketing or advertising messages to recipients, especially without providing the recipient an option to unsubscribe from such marketing.  Violation of this section entails a fine for the sender which ranges from Rs. 50,000 to One Million. All you need to do is lodge a complaint.

Section 25 is reproduced below, relevant parts, as applicable to above-mentioned subject, have been highlighted for clarity.

“25. Spamming.–{l) 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.

(2) A person including an institution or an organization engaged in direct marketing shall provide the option to the recipient of direct marketing to unsubscribe from such marketing.

(3) Whoever commits the offence of spamming as described in sub section (l) by transmitting harmful, fraudulent, misleading or illegal information, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with fine of rupees fifty thousand which may extend upto rupees five million or with both.

(4) Whoever commits the offence of spamming as described in sub section (l) by transmitting unsolicited information, or engages in direct marketing in violation sub-section (2), for the. first time, shall be punished with fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees, and for every subsequent violation shall be punished with fine not less than fifty thousand rupees that may extend up to one million rupees.”

The evil of spamming is relatively recent, prevalent since a few years after the advent of internet and cell phone technology. Even though it has only recently been declared illegal by way of an enactment in Pakistan, same has been illegal in other jurisdictions for years now. In the United States of America, the Can-Spam Act was enacted in 2003. Canada legislated its own anti spamming laws in 2010 and the UK has also declared spamming a criminal wrong. Our neighbor India, however, seems to have no such laws in place, especially since the repeal of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000.

There haven’t been many cases or considerable action for implementation of our own Section 25 for reasons that include apparent non-seriousness of the offence, lack of interest and most importantly; lack of awareness. A wrong that wasn’t even illegal a short while ago, is now a crime. Citizens now have a recourse for redress of their grievance against this nuisance, and a little pro-activity can help rid us of this cyber menace.

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