Human Rights Watch, others declare cyber crime bill ‘undemocratic’

Published April 21, 2015
The proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Bill declared as a risk to the freedom of expression and privacy in Pakistan.— Reuters/file
The proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Bill declared as a risk to the freedom of expression and privacy in Pakistan.— Reuters/file

ISLAMABAD: Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, Digital Rights Foundation and other organisations have expressed serious concerns over the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Bill and declared it a risk to the freedom of expression and privacy in Pakistan.

In a joint statement, issued on Monday, members of the Senate have been urged to take a stand against the bill and ensure that any new cybercrime legislation is fully compliant with international human rights standards.

“We have serious misgivings about the process through which the PEC bill was drafted and revised. By excluding civil society and the private sector from consultation on the bill, the government prevented genuine public scrutiny of the bill, prior to voting in the National Assembly.

Read: NA committee approves 'controversial' cyber-crime bill

“Resultantly, not only the democratic process in Pakistan, has been undermined but the bill contains several provisions which are potentially damaging to privacy and freedom of expression,” the statement said.

“In breach of Pakistan’s obligations under the international human rights law, Section 34 of the bill is overly broad and fails to include adequate safeguards for the protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. It empowers the government to order service providers to remove or block access to any speech, sound, data, writing, image, or video, without any approval from a court,” it further noted.

In joint statement said bill is a threat to privacy and freedom of expression

The statement said that by removing judicial oversight, the bill is a ‘blank cheque for abuse’.

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

It was further noted that although the bill provides for a complaint procedure, it does not require such a procedure to be put in place nor is there any requirement for the complaint procedure to include the right to appeal to an independent tribunal.

“In any case, even an ex post facto right of appeal is likely to be inadequate given the sheer breadth of the blocking powers contained in section 34,” the statement said.

It was also noted that the bill allows the federal government to unilaterally share intelligence with foreign spy agencies without any independent oversight.

“The cooperation between intelligence agencies must be governed by specific laws and overseen by an independent oversight body, capable of ensuring intelligence is not shared when it puts human rights at risk. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated last year in her report on the right to privacy in the digital age, intelligence sharing arrangements that lack clear limitations risk violating human rights law,” the statement said.

Also read: Rights groups join hands to protest cyber-crime bill

The statement recommended that information-sharing with foreign governments and entities should be regulated by specific laws and subject to independent oversight. A clear and accessible legal regime, compliant with international law, should govern any data copied by the state authorities.

Digital Rights Foundation Representative Nighat Daad told Dawn her organisation had been working for the rights of international users and found the bill undemocratic.

“The bill was drafted secretly and no one is aware of what the actual draft bill contains. Whatever has been revealed is unacceptable. The bill gives monitoring agencies, the right to arbitrarily block any content,” she said. She said the bill gave agencies massive power to carry out surveillance without judicial oversight.

“According to the law, e-mail cannot be sent to anyone without their permission, otherwise the receiver can register an FIR against the sender,” she said.

“It is suspected that only vigorous punishments will be given under the National Action Plan but anyone including civil society activists and journalists may be victimised,” she said.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2015

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