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Cybercrime bill controversy

Updated Apr 16, 2015 03:14am


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The issue of cybercrime has been with us for several years, the 2007 Pakistan Electronic Crime Ordinance having lapsed in 2009— Reuters/file
The issue of cybercrime has been with us for several years, the 2007 Pakistan Electronic Crime Ordinance having lapsed in 2009— Reuters/file

On the surface, all seems well: there is no doubt that laws referring to cybercrime require being formulated. The issue has been with us for several years, the 2007 Pakistan Electronic Crime Ordinance having lapsed in 2009.

Attempts to revive that led to representatives of the IT industry and its activists, such as the Internet Service Providers’ Association and the Pakistan Software Houses Association as well as some NGOs that work in this area, becoming involved in the process of giving shape to the proposed new legislation.

Read: Digital censorship

The draft of the new Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 was sent to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on IT and Telecom earlier this month.

And on Tuesday, speaking to the media at a conference in Islamabad, Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rahman said that the government has finalised the cybercrime bill. She added that this was in line with the implementation of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism, with severe penalties proposed for offenders.

Also read: New cybercrime bill tough on individuals’ rights, soft on crime

Scratch through this surface of gloss though, and there is much that is controversial.

Critics say that a government-led sub-committee put in time to modify the draft that had originally been chiselled by the IT ministry and industry stakeholders and activists — the latter now holding that they were excluded from the process of finalising the draft.

What now stands to be tabled in the National Assembly, they say, is a loosely worded piece of legal drafting that not just betrays a poor grasp of the technical aspects of digital communications and the internet, but also contains several deeply problematic clauses that are open to misinterpretation and may be used as crutches for censorship and the suppression of views a government finds unpalatable.

Consider, for instance, Section 31, the most jarring of several examples.

Under this section, the government could block access to any website “in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality....” Who is to decide what undermines the integrity of Pakistan, or its relations with other states?

Who exactly are the “friendly foreign states”, and where would countries with which Pakistan has fluctuating ties such as the US be placed? Critics also refer to several other technically flawed and vague definitions that pose threats to ordinary citizens.

The bill is yet to be tabled before the National Assembly.

When that happens, it is to be hoped that the lawmakers tune in and examine each and every clause very carefully, with a view to protecting the hard-won freedoms and rights of Pakistani citizens.

The issue is of much greater importance than the government has chosen to project. Pakistan has suffered much because of laws that are open to abuse and misinterpretation. It does not need more such laws.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2015

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Comments (12) Closed

Dekh Magar Pyaar Se Apr 16, 2015 04:38am

Agreed. Poor work by Ministry of IT

ysk Apr 16, 2015 07:45am

For one, information on Balochistan won't be readily available

Ahmed Shaikh Apr 16, 2015 09:35am

Such vague clauses will only help cyber criminals rather than suppressing them. If the bill is passed without redacting, it will provide legal cover to them in exploiting the loopholes.

NS Apr 16, 2015 10:51am

@ysk several sites for Balochis are already blocked.

observer Apr 16, 2015 11:38am

The more this nation is ruled by laws which create fear and intimidation, the more restrictions put on society, the more intolerant the laws, the harsher the punishments, the more this society will become brutalized, violent, lawlessness, extremism, disaffection will grow. Laws should be made with extreme caution, and only when absolutely necessary, let people be the best judge for their actions, and not politicians, clerics, bureaucrats, individuals should keep their values to themselves. If change is to brought about, it should not be thru, punitive actions, rather by good example, by discussion, by good education, by debate, by simple exchange of thoughts. Ours is a nation which is deeply polarized, and the way people, think and act differ widely, their values differ, their thoughts differ. This nation needs introspection, not more laws, we have to be honest with our own conscience first and then with the conscience of others, before we draft laws.

Annie Apr 16, 2015 01:04pm

Sadly speaking but we have to depend upon parliament for such issues. It's democracy!!!

Imran Apr 16, 2015 05:29pm

Pathetic development. Agreed that for sending messages or photos a prior consent of the recipient must be acquired and it should be translated into law. No one would disagree with this clause. But allowing law enforcers to to investigate and arrest any one without any reason is unintelligible and against civil liberties. Political criticism will also be criminalized as per existing form of the cybercrime bill. Analysis, blogs and caricatures criticizing the government for their deplorable policies also involves punishment. This is completely against the principles of advanced societies generally and Islam particularly. If there will be no criticism or opposition, reforms will never be achieved, which our country needs direly.

Hassan Apr 16, 2015 08:54pm

U hire Intelligent People and their will be no ambiguity with proposed system. What i can expect from People who dont even know the abc of Technology. U need Engineers and Data Scientist to handle this staggering issues. Look back what happened in 2012. Its because our govt dint tackle the issue very well.

Anwar Ahmad Apr 16, 2015 09:58pm

This bill seals the fate of the little freedom speech in Pakistan.

Ali Ahmed Lone Apr 17, 2015 12:02am

What kind of a ridiculous bill is this? it won't benefit good people at all!!

What on earth is the government of Pakistan thinking? acting Stasi on innocent people! Where are Pakistan's Edward Snowdens when we need them the most!

AW Apr 17, 2015 12:34am

"deeply problematic clauses that are open to misinterpretation and may be used as crutches for censorship and the suppression of views a government finds unpalatable" -DAWN

Completely agreed. This is a draconian law and its motive is to suppress freedom of expression and freedom to debate. Whereas, the world is progressing, Pakistan led by incompetents is moving southwards. It will be a national tragedy and a great set back to the nation if this law is approved by the clueless parliament. Criticism of any and all institutions which includes the Judiciary and the Army is a basic right of every citizen and it must not be taken away by the "rubber stamp" parliament. Is there anyone rational left in the decision making authority to stop this non-sense?

gupta Apr 18, 2015 08:01am

Inline with the direction pakistan is going and as usual Pakistanis can't protest because they are always confused about what they want Pakistan to be