Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on Dawn.com.

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience

.

Email


Your Name:


Recipient Email:


The loosely worded Cybercrime Bill justifies blocking online material of a dangerously broad scope. — AP
The loosely worded Cybercrime Bill justifies blocking online material of a dangerously broad scope. — AP

The past few months have been a struggle for those fighting for digital rights in Pakistan. While they are a small minority in the grand pool of activists in the country, they have had their hands full with the new proposed cybercrime bill (#PECB15) determinedly being pushed forward by the concerned officials.

Currently, the bill has been passed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT and seems to be moving swiftly along. A little background might help to understand why the bill is being pushed forward so quickly, and why this proposed bill should be important to us as citizens.

Know more: NA committee approves 'controversial' cyber-crime bill

In December 2014, a not-for-profit digital advocacy group I work for, Bolo Bhi, filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court to challenge the legality of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW).

Bolo Bhi had found, after filing in the Right to Information requests, that the IMCEW had no legal standing and yet, were passing directives to block content online, even if they were not of a blasphemous or pornographic nature.

The IMCEW was disbanded in March, after it became obvious that the courts were convinced that the body was unconstitutional. However, as expected, our Prime Minister stated that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) would now have the authority to manage content online, without paying any attention to the lack of transparency and accountability in the current process.

The PTA was created by act of Parliament, which means the powers vested in the PTA are to be granted through law, not by a statement made by the prime minister.

And that is all the more reason why it is so critical to know what this new proposed law holds for us.

The addition of Section 31 of the Proposed Cybercrime Bill gives PTA:

“Power to issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any intelligence through any information system…if it considers it necessary 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, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.”

This has created an excessively broad scope to justify blocking material online.

For example, criticism of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or the United States of America, could fall under “friendly relations with foreign states”. Thus any newspaper, online media, or material on social media in regards to such criticism can and most likely will be blocked. There will be no need for a direct order from the Supreme Court, or an evaluation of the material, it will just disappear off the Internet.

We have already seen that happen with the disappearance of Fahd Hussain's column on the UAE minister's statement; we may have power to dispute such blocking today, but if this bill is passed, there will be very little we would be able to do.

I could come up myriad examples of what all can be blocked/banned by twisting around the aforementioned "justifications”; but we are all already well aware of the blocks and bans Pakistan is known to impose under the garb of “national security” or “terrorism”.

To take away our right to fight the constitutionality of the banning and blocking of websites, the government wants to pass the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015. This will allow the PTA to block anything, on ANY information system (which could possibly include your phones, your televisions, even your Xbox and PlayStation, because they have the ability to connect to the Internet), and there will be very little you can do about it.

But besides taking away our ability to challenge, this bill has found its way to infringe upon our freedom of expression and opinions.

Article 19 of the Pakistan Constitution says:

“Freedom of speech, etc – Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law 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, or in relation to contempt of court, 1 [commission of] or incitement to an offence.”

It would be good to mention here that the website of a well-known Human Rights Group, Article19.org, is blocked on a certain ISP here in Pakistan, ironically. When asked about it, they said: “The PTA directed them to do so”. This was on April 15, 2015, even before the bill had been passed.

How does a website on the freedom of speech upset the “glory of Islam” or “security, integrity or defence” or effect Pakistan negatively in any way? It doesn’t; it just irks the government, that's all.

This proposed bill will do just the same; it will suppress our ability to express our opinion, to write freely, to create memes, or cartoons, especially ones that are political in nature or even upload pictures of people without asking their permission.

In fact, you will not even be able to send out a mass text, e-mail or any such thing without explicit consent of the receiver. Just read the most recent draft of the draconian cybercrime bill. In other parts of the world, spamming is dealt with differently, and penalties are only imposed if spamming is done for commercial purposes. Not so here.

In the event that you get charged with a crime under this bill, a warrant will either exist as a formality or not at all. The wordings of the act regarding the warrants is so vague and open-ended, that it seems it was just added to make it sound like defendants were being given the right to due process.

The Law mandates ISPs to retain your data for 90 days, and thus, can be forced to give up your browser history and/or other information that we once believed to be private. In fact, if you’re charged under this law, you may be forced to give investigating officials open access to all your data, online or on your computer/information devices.

In the absence of a Data Protection Law, the introduction of a loosely worded cybercrime law would be devastating for civil liberties and businesses in the country.

These provisions in the proposed bill are an infringement on the right to free speech; the right to expression; the right to free media; the protection from undue searches and seizures; the right to NOT incriminate oneself; and the right to conduct business. From how it looks, even media outlets would be severely persecuted under this law.

The draftspersons of this bill seem to have forgotten that there are some inalienable rights given to a Pakistani citizen and that no law violating them can be passed. The fact that the law has moved forward on the floor of the assembly is incredibly worrying.

It seems as though lawmakers have no clue that this law will be in violation of our constitutional rights. It is important that we as citizens identify and understand the problems with this bill, and not stand by while it is in the process of being enacted.

We need to break the silence.


Related:


Author Image
Madiha Latif is a graduate from Rider University, New Jersey in Political Science, Economics and Global Studies.

She has been working with Bolo Bhi since 2013. She is currently pursuing a Law Degree and hopes to complete her PhD one day.

She tweets @madiha_latif.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (38) Closed



Ahmed Apr 17, 2015 07:13pm

Since we, the people of Pakistan, decided a long time ago that Pakistan was going to be a security state (by not resisting our journey down that slipper slope), such draconian and repressive farcical exercises masquerading as Acts of Parliament will sadly continue. Till the time we decide to put up a struggle, that is.

Unshackle Pakistan Apr 17, 2015 07:16pm

Lawmakers have all the clues. State itself has grown by impinging, usurping and trampling over the freedoms that the people enjoy. More control stifles inquiry, creates fear, and keeps most from realizing they hold the power.

Decentralization is the key to people getting freer, economic progress, and inculcating the desire in people to be helpful, simply because they get to choose to be whatever they want to be.

@UnshacklePak

Zala Apr 17, 2015 07:37pm

A well written and informative article Madiha. How on earth can the government deny us our rights which are protected by the constitution. Social media is a venue to view our opinion. They just want to silence our voice,. The government wants to keep our population uneducated so they may rule the way they like. And the small percentage of educated citizens will be prosecuted if they spoke against them.

Afzaal Ahmad Apr 17, 2015 07:39pm

Fully endorse the views expressed

Syed Awais Apr 17, 2015 07:44pm

"Democracy" Khappay!!!

M.Saeed Apr 17, 2015 07:46pm

It appears "monkey gets its hands on cut-throat shaver"!

shamain Apr 17, 2015 07:58pm

Another name for pakistan is dangerous, so cyber bill is one of the many facets that make pakistan different and exciting.

khan Apr 17, 2015 08:00pm

who will block those who will be blocking. Though I am not in favour of releasing everything to everyone, however this way is not the right way.

Haroon Apr 17, 2015 08:03pm

How would the Pakistanis living in Pakistan think in a diverse manner if the only information available to them will be the one controlled by the government.

Sultan Dar Apr 17, 2015 08:13pm

Government is doing the right thing, such law should have been implemented long ago.

Pragmatist Apr 17, 2015 09:05pm

Censorship never works.

gras Apr 17, 2015 10:25pm

If big people need protection, so do small ones. Is there a place where cyber crimes can be reported e.g. identity theft?

ImranFarooq Apr 17, 2015 11:37pm

I Support this bill,There shouldn't be any freedom of speech for people who can't handle it.Pakistani Media is a Fine example,They Got Freedom they didn't deserve & Now we see them Acting like immature children shouting at the top of their lungs on any issue they seem worth including Ayyan Ali's Demands of Juice,It also includes Pakistani English News Websites

Turth Seeker Apr 17, 2015 11:52pm

@gras Yes, report it to FIA, Cyber crime helpline: 9911

Najeeb Apr 18, 2015 12:35am

Very informative article Madiha

Turth Seeker Apr 18, 2015 01:21am

@gras contact FIA cyber crime helpline 9911.

Nathan Apr 18, 2015 02:26am

Will someone please ask the prime minister what IT stands for?

Raheem Apr 18, 2015 07:59am

shameful act on spying on its own people....

AW Apr 18, 2015 12:16pm

If cyber crime bill in its present form become the law, it will be big leap backwards into the stone age. Suppression of freedom has never been good for any country which has adopted such measures. Pakistani law makers must stand up for freedoms and not for suppression

Ashar Apr 18, 2015 12:36pm

@Sultan Dar if the law does end up being implemented, you won't be able to say that. So are you sure it's the right thing?

Astaghfar Apr 18, 2015 12:36pm

This bill is being pushed forward by the Sharif khandan for one purpose. They want to impose the rules of raiwind in the country. They want to treat the country as their fiefdom. It is extremely important that this bill is opposed by all quarters of the society. The people who criticise the homeleand security apparatus of USA will cry out in pain when this bill becomes active. It is for all practical purposes imposition of a particular ideology rather than paying attention to preventing crime. Reminds me of Baqiyat-e-Zia.

saba sheikh Apr 18, 2015 01:41pm

This bill should definitely be better defined but we desperately need some control over pornographic websites. In the absence of any moral guidance, our youth are being bombarded with indecent material whenever they use the internet and we can clearly see its negative effects in our society now adays

Truth Apr 18, 2015 02:29pm

@Sultan Dar Such gags and censorship never work

Truth Apr 18, 2015 02:34pm

@Astaghfar Very well said.

ps(India) Apr 18, 2015 03:48pm

In India we have a law called IT Act, it had a draconian provision called section 66A under which people could be arrested if their views caused mere annoyance to anyone. Politicians used it to arrest anyone who condemned their actions. Thankfully our Supreme Court declared this section unconstitutional. Now it has been removed. I would urge Pakistanis to challenge this law in court.

String Apr 18, 2015 04:06pm

@Ahmed , Its Govt plan to stop all kind of criticism and If army is involve in it , Nawaz Sharif should not propose any bill about political criticism , However its Nawaz Sharif govt wish to impose ban on political criticism by social media

Azmeen Apr 18, 2015 04:21pm

Pak needs cybercrime bill to minimize the cybercrimes which are increasing day by day. All developed countries have such regulation. Yes, contents of the bill could be debated for positivity.

Abbas Shahid Baqir Apr 18, 2015 05:23pm

In Our Previous meeting in Pakistan Information Security Association (PISA) Lahore Chapter All Cyber Crime Dept & FIA Cyber Crime Team Discuss during meeting with FIA Cyber Crime Branch in Islamabad & Lahore , Govt.of Pakistan Did not provide them full access on sites or on email or any related material , so do not worry they check limited access.

Abbas shahid Baqir Student Shelter in Computers Pakistan Information Security Association (PISA) Lahore Chapter http://www.stscomps.com

Adnan Apr 18, 2015 05:28pm

I do not at all agree with the auhors view point and rash conclusion. Stricter punishments suit this nation. Law makers are not only thinking of fluent English speaking pvt. college grads. Which is is what ? 10% Thee is a lot of crime going on with help of computers or digital equipment....with lax reprimands it will only be encouraged.... Speaking of which this infi analysis is more a knee jerk reaction rather than well researched.

Amjad Iqbal Apr 18, 2015 07:20pm

Very timely and appropriate move by the Government. The experience shows that available civil liberties are being badly exploited to the detriment of society. Even otherwise, we should follow the success stories. The great Lee Kuan applied reasonable checks on civil liberties in Singapore and preferred the economic well being of the nation. Today his nation has one of the highest per capita income in the world despite being the size of a Pakistani city. I welcome the propsed bill and also wish to withdraw all unreasonable liberties.

aslam shaikh Apr 18, 2015 07:21pm

If this new bill goes against Article 19 of the Constitution then it can be stuck down easily in court. If anyone is serious enough please file a complaint in Supreme Court.

guest Apr 18, 2015 08:04pm

They want to protect themselves that's the issue.

UnshacklePakistan Apr 18, 2015 08:10pm

@ImranFarooq You as a free individual have a choice to watch a different channel. The fact that you keep watching that drivel tells the network that people are tuned into their channel, getting them more revenue from advertisers. Your actions dictate in free market what is shown to the people. If majority want to listen to drive, it is drivel that shall be shown. If majority want to see philosophical discussions I can assure you they'll start popping up on TV. You have the freedom of choice that is being taken away by someone sitting far away. Soon you'll forget what it felt like to have a choice.

Asim Daud Apr 18, 2015 08:31pm

Government is wary of educated social media users of this country. That is why trying desperately to curtail the active participation of educated lot in the future politics.Very bad precedent on the part of the government.

AN Apr 20, 2015 02:49am

Awareness of gen. issues and extent to the crime have always remained to raise alarm and much trumpeted recently ; Hope that our youngsters learn more traffic rules and laws together with civic and the cyber sense to pace with those of more advanced countries. Don't bother if the language was born first or the grammer was invented before ?

Alfa Apr 20, 2015 12:43pm

I have been working in the IT Security consultancy firm and i realy dont see a point that why is it dangerous thing. I think inorder to promote secure E-Commerce this bill is very very much needed. We can't allow those who are activily engaged in cyber crimes to find refuge under the freedom of speech mantra ... Its a much needed bull, which would facilitate online and e-commerce based business, thus opening a new and more accounted for financials.

Shahzad Apr 20, 2015 03:07pm

Thank you

mehkan Apr 21, 2015 10:32pm

My biggest concern with Pakistani law makers is that they have a myopic vision. They can only see for a) their time as a representative, or b) a few years (read 5) ahead. Such bills will be taking their toll and will have repercussions way longer than any of these have ever anticipated. i really hope that some day they are able to analyze things properly, and mitigate all the risks, before emotionally jumping to conclusions. We need a responsible attitude in Pakistan from both the law makers and the citizens. Why can we not do so? Why is it so hard for us. Worried as always Mehkan