It comes as a matter of relief that the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecom has relented on its earlier inflexible stance and on Friday asked its members to hold consultations with experts to revise portions of the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015.
The controversy had been brewing for quite some time, and came to a head a little over a month ago when Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman announced that the bill had been finalised.
But digital rights activists and industry professionals had been insisting that what was about to be tabled was not the draft originally hammered out with input from representatives of the IT industry; they contended that since then, the draft had been amended by a government-led sub-committee, and what was poised to be passed into law was a loosely worded piece of legal drafting that betrayed a poor grasp on the technical aspects of the internet and digital communications, as well as several deeply problematic clauses that were open to abuse.
Despite hectic lobbying by digital rights groups and other stakeholders, the National Assembly standing committee had so far been refusing to accept that there were any problems and had been pushing for a speedy passage of the bill into law.
Fortunately, better sense prevailed on Friday when, upon the intervention of PPP MNA Shazia Marri, members of the industry-led IT joint action committee were allowed into parliament to have their say.
Also encouraging is the fact that this did not turn into a routine hearing of objections; what had originally been intended as a 90-minute session ended up taking the best part of three hours, with the joint action committee urging the omission of a number of sections from the bill, offering several ways in which to avoid potential human and digital rights pitfalls, and pointing out ambiguities.
These gains need to be worked upon, and the draft scrutinised thoroughly so that the final version does not lend itself to mischief or abuse.
There is, after all, no extreme urgency, and many had been wondering why this piece of proposed legislation appeared set to be rushed through the scrutiny process, as several others have been in the recent past.
The 2007 Pakistan Electronic Crime Ordinance lapsed in 2009, and while there is no argument that the country needs effective laws to check cybercrime, it must take the time to get them exactly right.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2015