The arguments of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), activists, media experts, opposition politicians and concerned citizens against the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) were waved aside by the government and the law was approved by President Mamnoon Hussain two weeks ago. One would think that this bullish attitude would at least result in ensuring that the law was implemented in both letter and spirit, but the federal government is yet to notify Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) such as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of their role after the cybercrime law was passed.
As it is, FIA has stopped registering complaints for cyber-related crimes after the expiry of the old Electronic Transactions Ordinance with the passing of the PECB. That means that any crimes committed in the cyberspace are currently unmonitored. If that thought does not scare the government into taking action, it is doubtful anything will.
If anything, by looking to protect digital rights, the government has only exacerbated the issue so far, because right now, crimes such as online harassment, stalking, electronic fraud and identity theft are not covered by any LEA. All these crimes can be committed with relative ease as no security agency is tasked to prevent them.
Not only that, but the new law has increased the ambit of cybercrimes in the country by a significant margin. Cyber-policing, which is currently in its very nascent stages in Pakistan, would have to undergo fundamental changes. LEAs will need to work on capacity-building – for both personnel and equipment. This will take time, and can only start taking place if the LEAs are made aware of their roles in cyberspace.
The government has taken great pains to get the PECB passed, but that is less than half the job done. Even though the PECB is anything but perfect, and will potentially inhibit the fundamental rights of free speech and expression in the digital space, it is the only legal mechanism to prevent any form of cybercrime in Pakistan. Implementing it, at least for its positive aspects, is extremely necessary with the sudden growth spurt in the number of people online for Pakistan. This increasing online footprint brings with it people that are not completely aware about their digital rights or the mechanisms available on individual websites for their protection. For that, ignoring all of the PECB’s faults, the LEAs need to be brought on board to police the cyberspace.