Cyber lawlessness | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Cyber lawlessness

Pakistan Press Foundation

The much debated Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 has caused serious concerns amongst individuals and businesses alike. The Bill has been termed draconian, prejudicial, etc. My reading of it (which is taken from media networks) shows there are serious legal flaws that must be remedied before the Bill is promulgated. While in the modern day, it is essential to have legislation encompassing electronic crimes, what must be kept in mind is the word ‘crime’. Criminal laws are made for simply one thing, i.e., prevention/punishment of crime. The word ‘crime’, legally speaking, will mean whatever the legislature wants it to mean, but when promulgating any law (and in particular criminal laws), parliament must keep in mind the benefit and the safeguarding of its citizens. Unfortunately, as many of our parliamentarians feel that laws don’t apply to them, may perhaps be why they cannot empathise with the citizens’ concerns.

Worldwide, cybercrime laws exist, but no advanced country (who were allegedly consulted when drafting the Bill) officially gave such unfettered powers to their governments. Why do we feel the need to do so? Global cybercrime laws target child pornography, serious fraud, cyber-terrorism etc. Under this Bill, the government gets complete discretion to first investigate (without sufficient cause) and then decide if any crime was committed. Basically we are working the system in reverse.

The proposed Bill appears to give the authorities carte blanche in choosing and charging whomsoever they desire without properly ascertaining whether any ‘crime’ has even been committed or not. Should sending spam emails (annoying as they are) be considered a crime? Should political criticism be considered a crime? Should a restaurant be liable for internet usage of its patrons? An even scarier thought is that the discretion of arresting/investigating rests solely with the authorities, which have time and again shown incompetence and corruption. Once a person is arrested, their life has changed forever and with the proposed Bill, their crime could have been nothing but a ‘hunch’ on which the investigation agency acted without credible information and proof. The authorities would also officially have discretion to charge persons with “obscenity” and “immorality”, which remain undefined terms as per the Bill. These proposed powers will almost dissolve any form of modern-age privacy and freedom held by citizens and businesses, as the government will be able to legally intrude upon emails, electronic messages, etc. It is more realistic to assume that these powers will be used for extortion and political revenge rather than for redemption of crime.

While cybercrime legislation is essential, the current Bill is draconian and untenable. Many innocents will suffer psychological harm, and perhaps unnecessarily be admitted into the already overburdened judicial system. All forms of businesses (especially internet providers) would greatly suffer in too many ways to mention, denting an already fragile economy.

Parliament must also consider that the proposed Bill is in violation of several constitutionally safeguarded rights, such as Articles 13, 14, 18, 24 and 25, as well as other laws, and if the proposed Bill is converted to an Act of parliament, it will almost certainly be vehemently challenged before the courts. The proposed Bill brings to mind these two contrasting quotes, the first by the vain monarch Louis XIV who said: “It is legal because I wish it”; and the second by Cicero, the renowned philosopher and jurist who said, “The safety of the people shall be the highest law.” Parliament should swiftly get back to the drawing board and redraft the Bill in a legally sound and acceptable manner.

Express Tribune