ISLAMABAD: The controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 was approved in the National Assembly (NA) on Wednesday.
The bill must also be approved by Senate before it can be signed into law.
The draconian bill ─ which has been criticised by the IT industry as well as civil society for curbing human rights and giving overreaching powers to law enforcement agencies ─ was submitted to the NA for voting in Jan 2015 by the Ministry of IT.
It was then referred to the NA Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication to address concerns raised by the opposition members and stakeholders from the industry.
A draft of the cybercrime bill was then forcefully cleared by the standing committee in September before being forwarded to the NA for final approval without showing committee members the copy of the bill.
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. Industry representatives have argued that the bill would harm business as well.
Online criticism of religion, the country, its courts, and the armed forces are among subjects which could invoke official intervention under the bill.
Salient features of bill
Up to five year imprisonment, PKR 10 million fine or both for hate speech, or trying to create disputes and spread hatred on the basis of religion or sectarianism.
Up to five year imprisonment, PKR 5 million fine or both for transferring or copying of sensitive basic information.
Up to PKR 50 thousand fine for sending messages irritating to others or for marketing purposes. If the crime is repeated, the punishment would be three months imprisonment and a fine of up to PKR 1 million rupees.
Up to three year imprisonment and a fine of up to PKR 0.5 million for creating a website for negative purposes.
Up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to PKR 1 million for forcing an individual for immoral activity, or publishing an individual’s picture without consent, sending obscene messages or unnecessary cyber interference.
Up to seven year imprisonment, a fine of PKR 10 million or both for interfering in sensitive data information systems.
Three month imprisonment or a PKR 50 thousand fine or both for accessing unauthorised data.
Three year imprisonment and a fine of up to PKR 5 million for obtaining information about an individual’s identification, selling the information or retaining it with self.
Up to three year imprisonment and a fine of up to PKR 0.5 million for issuing a sim card in an unauthorised manner.
Up to three year imprisonment and fine of up to PKR 1 million rupees for making changes in a wireless set or a cell phone.
Up to three year imprisonment and a fine of up to PKR 1 million for spreading misinformation about an individual.
Scratch through the surface of the Bill, and there is much that is controversial.
Critics say that a government-led sub-committee put in time to modify the draft that had originally been chiselled by the IT ministry and industry stakeholders and activists — the latter now holding that they were excluded from the process of finalising the draft.
What now stands to be tabled in the National Assembly, they say, is a loosely worded piece of legal drafting that not just betrays a poor grasp of the technical aspects of digital communications and the internet, but also contains several deeply problematic clauses that are open to misinterpretation and may be used as crutches for censorship and the suppression of views a government finds unpalatable.
Read more: Dawn editorial: Cybercrime bill controversy