‘New legislation needed’ to plug Cybercrime law loopholes
ISLAMABAD : After the signature of president, the Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill will be soon incorporated into law, but many believe numerous articles of the new law need further consideration.
During background interviews with top government officials, who attended the marathon consulting sessions of the Parliament, it was found that most of them acknowledge the need for new legislation on cyber crimes and believe many articles of the newly passed bill need further contemplation.
Most of the punishments in the bill are too harsh, but one thing which bothers me most is the age of offender, said an official.
He said the new law will be applicable to minors also, whereas as per constitution, if the age of offender is less than 18 years, no capital punishment could be applicable to him and he should be dealt under juvenile laws. “Will you send an 11 years old kid to prison, if he mistakenly forwards any email?” he asked.
The bill, as reported by the Standing Committee defines “offence means an offence punishable under this Act except when committed by a person under ten years of age or by a person above ten years of age and under fourteen years of age, who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his conduct on that occasion”.
The draft approved by National Assembly is however silent regarding offender’s age.
“Offence means an offence punishable under this Act,” it says without giving further explanation of offender. Whether the laws would be applicable to minors also with same strength, or it is left on discretion of investigation officer, the document is quiet on this.
Since its inception, certain quarters have been voicing that the proposed Cyber laws could not only hurt the fundamental rights of the citizens but also lead to censorship.
Despite all criticism government remained firm and finally it was passed from National Assembly last week.
Interestingly, State Minister for IT Anusha Rehman, who had been very vocal against cyber laws during last PPP regime, not only defended it but accused everybody who spoke against the bill of following “NGOs’ agenda” and taking directions from foreign elements.
Although bill was initiated during 2014 but Anusha has been saying that the bill was pushed as part of the National Action Plan.
Many term her arguments weak and say that the IT minister, selected on a reserved seat, was too weak to have an independent opinion.
What is wrong with following NGOs’ agenda if it is in line with public interest? It is true after the new law, the business of multinational IT companies would suffer greatly, but it would be an even greater loss to the nation too.
After all the social media played a central role in defeating the recent military coup in Turkey, an official opined. He said the bill was only forced into legislation as a damage control move. The opposition has been tarnishing government’s image by launching anti government campaigns on social media.
Apart from the debate as to who initiated the law and what were the motives behind rushing it like this, how this law would be implemented is anybody’s guess.
The insiders believe until a new authority is appointed by the government, the cybercrime wing of FIA, will be the executing agency.
The complainant will approach the designated judge of FIA through a written complaint who will order an inquiry. If compliant is found maintainable, the judge will direct the cybercrime wing to register an FIR and to proceed with the case, the official said.
He clarified that in Child Pornography and Cyber Terrorism cases the designated authority would have powers to register FIR without consulting the judge.
Many officials admit that the bill’s language leaves it open to abuse by law enforcement agencies and other governmental authorities.
It would provide an opportunity to investigation agencies to mint money, an official commented, adding, people join FIA to make quick bucks because the “Fee” (bribe) in FIA is very high. If police take 10,000, the (bribe) rate of FIA is 100,000 for the same offence, he added.
Apart from fears of power abuse by investigation agencies and political victimisation, the capacity of FIA is another question. The federal agency does not have enough human and technological capacity to deal with modern-day cyber crimes.
“We have around 15 high processing machines (Military Grade) in Cyber Crime Wing to process around 100-150 applications related to cyber crimes,” a top official said. He said under new law the number of complaints are expected to be around 500-600 per day.
“Can we handle such a huge burden with limited resources, this question should be asked from interior ministry,” the official said. He said the cybercrime wing of FIA was facing acute shortage of the manpower.
He explained that FIA only deals with cases of harassment, blackmailing, financial matters and extortion cases while cyber terrorism related cases are investigated by secret agencies, which also lack trained human resource and latest gadgets.
Some believe courts should take suo moto and discuss the bill in further detail to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens and to fight the cyber crimes in an effective manner.