New cybercrime bill tough on individuals’ rights, soft on crime

Published April 3, 2015
Experts say proposed law fails to protect individuals’ freedoms; contains few safeguards.—AFP/File
Experts say proposed law fails to protect individuals’ freedoms; contains few safeguards.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The government’s latest bill aimed at regulating Internet usage is tougher, curbs civil liberties and focuses more on moral aspects of Internet use than cybercrime itself.

At least this is how most information technology experts describe the new Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, which was sent to the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT and Telecom on Thursday.

While Internet Service Providers Association Convener Wahajus Siraj described the bill as “draconian”, Pakistan Software Houses Association Board Member Afaque Ahmad termed it “wrong and senseless”.

Know more: FBI's most wanted cyber criminal arrested in Karachi

“In its current form, the bill is a disaster. It was not made by an expert draftsman with adequate knowledge of the nuances of language, a comprehension of technicalities and technologies, someone who understands international laws. This is a hard combination to find,” Mr Ahmad said.

Mr Ahmad spent three years drafting what he calls “the original bill” alongside a group of IT experts and lawyers. He said that the government had sidelined all the relevant stakeholders from the process of drafting the law.

Experts say proposed law fails to protect individuals’ freedoms; contains few safeguards

“Our version of the bill curtailed the abusive powers of agencies such as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). We insisted that authorities get permits before making arrests. We had also tried to make sure that innocent people were not thrown in jail,” he said, explaining that the bill in its current form did not protect the rights of citizens.

“Our version of the bill emphasised the rights of defendants and the qualifications of judges who would adjudicate on cybercrime cases,” said Afaque Ahmad.

Another IT expert explained how the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 had serious issues with regards to definitions and technical language.

“There is a difference between ‘a warrant is required’ and ‘a warrant may be required’. Civil safeguards have been removed by parliamentarians who do not understand the technicalities of the subject,” he said.

However, State Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rahman explained that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 had been sent to the National Assembly Standing Committee with proposed amendments after being extensively scrutinised by a special review committee.

The minister explained that the special review committee was constituted on the direction of the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT and Telecom and consisted of technical and legal experts as well as MNAs.

She said the committee had analysed the bill clause by clause in order to make it more compatible with the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism and extremism.

“It is imperative that the bill caters to the growing needs and challenges related to the Internet,” said Ms Rahman, describing the process as “a gigantic task” that involved lengthy discussions and multiple review meetings.

Talking about some of the bill’s salient features, a senior MoIT official said the bill was drafted in line with the current legal system to minimise chances of failure in prosecution.

“One of the major challenges was establishing special courts to fight cyber crime. But that would be a time-consuming process. We have to deal with the problem urgently under NAP, hence it was decided that sessions judges would be trained in the subject, enhancing their capacity and making them smarter than the person committing the crime,” the official said.

However, former IT minister and MNA Awais Khan Leghari has been insisting on the formation of special courts.

“The present judicial system cannot handle cybercrime cases and it will lead to havoc,” Mr Leghari had said during deliberations at one of the meetings of the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT and Telecom.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2015

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