ISLAMABAD: The report on the controversial Pakistan Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015 was laid before parliament on Friday, with a dissenting note from PPP MNA Shazia Marri, who has been the strongest opponent of the proposals made in the drafted law.

PML-N MNA retired Capt Mohammad Safdar told the house that the draft copy of the PECB had been thoroughly discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT), and invited suggestions from parliamentarians and stakeholders from the IT industry and from civil society.

“The bill is open for debate again in the house to include suggestions to make the law better,” Mr Safdar, who was also the chairperson of the standing committee on IT, said.

PECB has been criticised for infringing on human rights, giving law enforcers extraordinary powers

The draft was forcibly cleared by Mr Safdar without a final copy being shared by the rest of the committee.

The proposed bill has been criticised by the IT industry and by civil society for curbing human rights and giving abusive powers to law enforcement agencies. Industry representatives have also argued that the bill would harm business.

According to critics, the proposed bill criminalises activities such as sending text messages without the receiver’s consent or criticising government actions on social media with fines and long-term imprisonment.

In her dissenting note, Ms Marri also raised objections to certain definitions and urged the standing committee to amend sections of the draft copy.

The MNA requested that the definitions of words such as ‘offence’ and ‘service provider’ be revisited.

She also claimed that penalties for minor offences were too harsh.

“I have serious concerns with imprisonment that can be extended to two years for as minor an offence as cyber stalking. I feel that people need to be reformed and not just severely punished. The Pakistan Penal Code already addresses harassment. The section on cyber stalking should either be deleted, or the imprisonment removed and fine revisited,” she said.

She also expressed dissent on the imprisonment penalty for unauthorised access of information systems/data. In her note she suggested that offenders should only be fined.

Ms Marri also argued against Section 34: Power to Manage Information System, which gives the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) the power to block any website if it feels it carries ‘objectionable’ or ‘offensive’ content.

Meanwhile, security agencies, particularly the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), have been aggressively fighting for the law to allow them direct access to companies and their data.

In its recommendations, FIA also urged that lawmakers be given powers to apprehend offenders without court authorisation.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015


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