Cybercrime: Kill Bill, say experts
KARACHI: A day after a parliamentary panel cleared the controversial cybercrime bill, there was increasing disquiet among professionals from different backgrounds with virtually all of them bashing the standing committee on information technology.
The committee, on Thursday, cleared the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 for a second time after lightly amending some clauses, pushing the draft closer to becoming a law. It will now be tabled in parliament for final approval.
“Had this bill been drafted in Europe, people would have taken to the streets and protested, unless it was trashed by the government itself.”
This was the reaction of the head of a foreign company to Pakistan’s proposed cybercrime bill that poses serious threats to civil liberties.
According to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, it is considered a crime if you take a picture in a public place, capturing someone in the background without their consent. Simply put, this crime bill would put an end to Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Read: Parliamentary panel passes cybercrime bill
According to the proposed draft, children above 12 and under 18 years can also be booked for such crimes. The kicker is that they can be charged even if they did it unintentionally or accidentally.
The Bill also criminalises political criticism. Students of political science or media studies, columnists and anyone who writes a critical analysis of Pakistan’s relations with other countries like China, Saudi Arabia or UAE to name a few could be charged and arrested as ‘cyber terrorists.’
Unprecedented powers have been proposed to be given to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to take down websites that speak against the glory of Islam.
These are only a handful of examples chosen from a host of problematic clauses present in the draft of the proposed ‘Cybercrime Bill’.
It is because of its flawed and ambiguous definitions and vague clauses that the draft has received severe criticism from all corners.
Rights activists, legal experts, the IT industry, politicians and media, all stood united in their observation that the proposed bill would deprive citizens of their basic rights, such as freedom of speech and access to information.
But, despite this criticism, the controversial bill was cleared on Thursday by the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT that had been reviewing it for months.
Criticism and disapproval
The committee’s head, Mohammad Safdar, claims to have accommodated up to 80% of the recommendations submitted by rights activists, politicians and legal experts that represented the IT industry.
However, on the other side, the very same people are complaining that their recommendations have not been considered and the final draft is no different than the one submitted to the committee by the IT ministry.
“It fails to protect citizens and favours terrorists,” said Barrister Zahid Jamil, a leading expert on cybercrime who has helped several countries in drafting cybercrime laws.
He said the law undermined national security interest with respect to cyber warfare and was detrimental to Pakistan’s war against terrorism.
“United Nations’ rules apply to this law,” said the legal expert. “They [the NA Standing Committee on IT] should have seen it in the context of the international law while drafting it.
“This bill would relegate the country to an ‘isolationist, regressive and backward state’ and make cybercrime and cyber security environment much more unsecured,” he added.
Giving an example, Jamil said the committee had also weakened the existing provisions regarding glorification of hate speech and terrorists, which were strictly dealt with under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Read: Review committee rejects bill entirely
While the draft was swiftly passed by the committee – albeit reservations from some members – it is likely to face serious criticism in the National Assembly, according to Sana Saleem, member of Bolo Bhi, a rights organisation.
Given the fact that the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) enjoys majority in the lower house, the bill is very likely to be approved.
Saleem, however, says it will not make it through the Senate.
“We have already spoken to senate members about the problematic clauses of the draft bill and we hope it doesn’t pass from there. Even if it does, we have legal options available to challenge it,” Saleem said.