Amendments to Cyber Crimes bill finalized
ISLAMABAD: A sub-committee of the Parliament on Wednesday finalised amendments in the draft cyber crimes bill, giving some concessions to the IT industry and civil society while maintaining most of the original clauses of the previously formulated legislation.
A marathon meeting of the committee, chaired by Major (R) Tahir Iqbal continued for six hours to debate proposals of the civil society to amend the draft of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015. The original bill has been heavily criticised by the civil society and internet service providers for strong punishments and curb on civil liberties.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the sub-committee agreed to conditionally allow investigation agencies to seize data and equipment from premises without prior court permission if the offence pertains to cyber terrorism. The meeting was also attended by representatives of security agencies, legal experts and representatives of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
The PPP member Shazia Marri expressed strong disagreement with most of punishments being proposed under the law terming them violation of constitutional rights of citizens.
The sub-committee however agreed to forward the draft bill to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Technology. The chairman of the committee said all the dissenting notes will also be forwarded to the main committee.
The committee also agreed to propose a punishment of seven years for offences against modesty of natural person and minor. Shazia Marri objected to the language of the law and expressed apprehension about the misuse of the clause. She said she will propose changes in the language in the main committee meeting.
Talking to The News after the meeting, the PML-N legislator Sardar Awais Leghari said most of the clauses were passed unanimously. He said the committee has agreed that an authorised officer will be allowed to raid a service provider and seize data from the premises without court warrant in emergency cases where cyber terrorism is involved. “Only a gazetted officer will be allowed to conduct such operation and in that case too, the court must be informed within 24 hours of the action,” he said.
Strong disagreement remained within the committee about the definition of internet service providers (ISPs) who will face server punishments for failing to follow the guidelines of the regulatory authority which include maintaining the entire data of users.
“It is unjust to penalise a coffee shop for not maintaining data of its customer who use the shop’s Wifi connection. FIA has suggested that all ISPs including cyber cafes and all other institutions which allow internet access in their premises should buy equipment to maintain user data but I strongly disagree with the proposal,” said Shazia Marri while talking to The News after the meeting. She said the matter will be resolved in the main committee.
The law proposes a fine of Rs10 million on such ISPs who fail to maintain user data and six months imprisonment on subsequent offence.
The committee agreed to impose three-month punishment for unathorised access to information system and data by any person and it also approved six-month imprisonment for unauthorised copying and transmission of data. Shazia wrote dissenting opinion on both the clauses.
The committee remained undecided about two-year punishment for cyber stalking. The matter was sent to the main committee for further discussion.The committee also directed Shazia to re-draft the language for section 34 of the proposed law which deals with powers of PTA to block websites that are deemed against the glory of Islam, friendly relations with foreign states and other issues as stated in Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The PPP legislator was of the view that the proposed section will harm the freedom of information and a PTA official may not be able to rightly interpret Article 19 for taking the decision of blocking access to website.
Shazia also insisted that investigation agencies should normally seek court permission before raiding any premises.The issue of juvenile involvement in cyber crimes also generated heated debate in the committee. Most of the members were of the view that younger children have now greater access to information technology and they can commit some offences mentioned in the draft law by mistake. It was decided that the age limit to prosecute children should be increased from seven years to 10 years for one category and from 10 years to 13 years for another category as mentioned in Pakistan Penal Code.
“This issue is also undecided and further discussion will take place in the National Assembly’s standing committee,” the PPP legislator said, adding that minors found involved in such crimes should be fined and barred from access to computers as punishment instead of being sent to jails.
The committee agreed with the proposal of the civil society on immunity against disclosure of information relating to security procedure which would mean that a person would not be compelled by the law enforcement agencies to reveal the passwords of his accounts.However, the sub-committee rejected the civil society’s proposal on inadmissibility of evidence seized by the agencies without following due procedure.