ISLAMABAD: Opposition lawmakers disowned the Pakistan Electronic Crime Bill (PEC 2015), the cybercrime bill that a Senate committee adopted, and forwarded to the National Assembly, last month.

They alleged at a public hearing held by the Pakistan Institute or Parliamentary Services, and the standing committees of the two houses of parliament on information technology, on Tuesday that Sen. retired Capt Mohammad Safdar, son-in-law of the prime minister, had bulldozed the controversial bill without sharing its contents with them.

“Members of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology did not even see the draft bill, and yet it was sent to the parliament for turning it into law,” bemoaned PPP MNA Shazia Marri.

Indeed, she, along with PPP colleague Nauman Sheikh and PML-N MNA Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, had registered their complaint with the chairman of the National Assembly standing committee that they were not provided copies of the draft bill to present a considered view on it.

PEC 2015 came to the Senate committee after it was rushed through the National Assembly committee dominated by the ruling PML-N. There the dominant opposition senators debated it for six months until the committee, headed by Sen Safdar, allegedly bulldozed it on September 17 and sent the bill back, with some amendments, to the National Assembly.

Senator Aitazaz Ahsan of the PPP said: “Disregarding the opinions of parliamentarians is a serious issue and must be brought to the attention of the Speaker of the National Assembly.”

According to him the bill is missing definitions, is confusing in describing roles of law enforcing agencies and gives too much authority to the government.

Beside the pent-up opposition parliamentarians, people representing the IT industry, non-governmental organisations and government departments, including the Federal Investigation Agency also attended the public hearing.

Discussion centered on the adopted cyber crime bill and on drawing comparisons with international laws and practices.

Sen. Karim Ahmed Khawaja objected to the PEC in its present form and informed that he also had prepared a draft bill and sent it to the Ministry of Information Technology to consider its possible incorporation in the proposed law. “But the ministry ignored it,” he said, offering the ministry ownership of his draft, and the PML-N government to take credit for the same.

Sen. Khawaja had been warning of blocking the ministry’s cybercrime bill in the Senate if his draft was not considered.

Other speakers recommended changes in certain provisions of the PEC 2015 bill, such as increasing the age to 18 to differentiate between a minor and adult violator of the proposed law, and making warrants mandatory for invading the privacy of individuals and confiscating their computing devices as evidence.

They also wanted the words ‘malicious intent’ included in every section to make them more specific and called for specifying the kind of data that the government may share with foreign companies during investigations.

Spokesperson for the Internet Service Providers, Wahajus Siraj, said that the ministry had disregarded such recommendations and suggestions from stakeholders.

“In its present form, the bill deprives people of their liberties and places harshest punishments for minor offences – someone can be imprisoned for three months for sending a text message,” he said.

Technology Consultant Salman Ansari said that the draft bill gave unfettered powers to law enforcing agencies, which they would abuse.

Leader of the opposition in the Senate Aitazaz Ahsan, asserted that the bill was flawed and needed improvements. Law enforcers could not be given powers to invade privacy of individuals and seize computing devices without privacy and data protection laws in the country, he said.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2015

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