ISLAMABAD: Despite a civil society outcry and several public hearings with stakeholders, the government seems bent on pushing a long-awaited cybercrime bill through parliament without incorporating experts’ recommendations.

On Wednesday, a large number of groups advocating digital rights and freedom of expression gathered for a press conference at the National Press Club to oppose this attitude.

Representatives of the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Blue Veins, the Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network, the Tribal NGOs Consortium, Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Civic Action Resources and Pakistan For All voiced concerns over the fact that the draft bill was not shared amongst members of the committee, despite being asked to do so, which appeared to be an attempt to pass the bill without proper analysis and debate.

A final draft of the bill has been approved by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and forwarded to the National Assembly for passage to the Senate.

A DRF representative said, “The government must introduce a stringent personal data protection law that defends the rights of Internet users in the country.

The government must also establish a privacy commission to perform surveillance and privacy oversight, to ensure that laws and provisions set up to protect citizens are strictly adhered to.”

The IRADA representative said that the cybercrime bill, as approved by the standing committee, was against the individual’s fundamental right to information as enshrined in Article 19-A of the Constitution and the principles of proactive disclosure of information.

“The bill, in fact, criminalizes the disclosure of information in public interest (whistle-blowing) and is no less than a modern version of the draconian Official Secrets Act, 1923,” he said.

“The political parties and parliament are duty bound to protect the interests and rights of citizens, not assist the government of the day in protecting some of its own interest that are at odds with the interests of the public.

“There should be no compromise on civil liberties and their protections,” a spokesperson for the Freedom Network said.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2015

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