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PESHAWAR: The activists of various civil society organisations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have expressed concern about the passage of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, commonly known as the cybercrime bill, by the National Assembly and said the legislation would suppress freedom of expression.

The bill was passed by the Senate in July after introduction of 50 minor amendments. Now, it will be sent to the president for approval, which is necessary for its enforcement.

In a joint statement, the CSOs on Thursday said their recommendations to bring the draft of the bill in the human right frame work was ignored by the government and legislatives bodies at all stages which had created serious concern among the civil society organisations.

They said using the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act the government could force Internet companies to remove or block access to any “speech, sound, data, writing, image, or video,” without the court’s approval.

The CSOs said under the law, Internet and telephone companies would be forced to keep logs on their users for a year, and give government officials the access to their Internal systems when served with a secret warrant.

“It outlaws everyday acts of Internet expert users, including reprogramming MAC addresses, or sharing or analysing computer vulnerabilities.”

Human rights activist Qamar Naseem said the passage of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill had seriously disappointed the people who knew about its repercussions.

“The elected representatives have voted against the aspirations of Pakistani citizens. It will give the government legal powers to censor Internet, track Internet users, criminalise computer security researchers and hand over personal data to foreign powers,” he said.

Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network representative Taimur Kamal said the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill was meant to be a law to fight cybercrime but instead, it gave authorities new sweeping powers over the Internet and cellphone systems, and empowered them to criminalise everyday acts of innocent Internet users.

Fata Commission of Human Rights Zar Ali Khan described the bill a ‘clear and present danger’ to human rights and feared the ‘draconian law’ would check the freedom of expression in the country.

He said the law would deprive the people of their right to express feelings on social media.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2016