Protecting our privacy online

Maha Khan, a Pakistani charity worker, is the victim in a long stalking ordeal. Antonie Robertson / The National
Maha Khan, a Pakistani charity worker, is the victim in a long stalking ordeal. Antonie Robertson / The National

The story of stalking victim Maha Khan highlights an important issue in our increasingly connected world. As The National reported yesterday, the 40-year-old English teacher has been stalked by a man she met 24 years ago in Abu Dhabi. After all these years, he accessed her social media accounts and used them to track her down in Dubai, where he showed up to stalk her physically.

Ms Khan did the right thing by going to the police to report his actions, and they responded correctly by calling the man into the Bur Dubai station and warning him that his actions constitute sexual harassment, which is a serious crime. They told him not to contact her again.

While stalking is not a new thing – and women are especially vulnerable – the growth of the internet and social media in particular has made it easier for would-be offenders. Facebook, Instagram and the like have become instantly accessible address books that are overwhelminginly used for good purposes, such as rekindling old friendships and allowing people to remain in contact even when they are far apart. But they can also make it easier to invade other people’s privacy through trolling, stalking, cyberbullying and blackmail. Sadly, there has been a sharp increase in the number of cybercrime cases around the world, including in the UAE. In Sharjah alone, more than 100 people have been arrested in the first eight months of this year – many of them for sexual blackmail.

As individuals, each of us needs to be vigilant when using online networks and take proper measures to protect our personal data. Features such as those that pinpoint our exact whereabouts need to be activated with caution, and we should think twice about the kind of photographs we take, leave on our smartphones and post to social sites. As a society, we must be alert and ready to help when others are stalked or trolled. Software companies should do more to mitigate the risks and block offenders, and the authorities must always take online threats and bullying seriously. We all have a role to play in dealing with this nasty byproduct of the tech revolution.

Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM