ISLAMABAD: The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015 passed in the National Assembly on August 11. The bill will be signed into law by President Mamnoon Hussain. Though the bill contains over 50 amendments suggested by rights groups and IT experts, they do not make “much of a difference,” Nighat Dad, lawyer and Internet...
ISLAMABAD: The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015 passed in the National Assembly on August 11. The bill will be signed into law by President Mamnoon Hussain.
Though the bill contains over 50 amendments suggested by rights groups and IT experts, they do not make “much of a difference,” Nighat Dad, lawyer and Internet rights activist as well as founder of Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), said.
Why is the bill problematic?
Rights groups say the bill's language is too vague, allowing LEAs, agencies and government to manipulate it according to their wishes. The way the bill is worded leaves many clauses open to interpretation
Furthermore, the bill restricts freedom of expression, forcing people to resort to self-censorship.
Also, it can specifically be used to target journalists’ sources and whistleblowers, many times marginalized populations.
More importantly, the bill gives absolute powers to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority handling the implementation of the bill. “It can block and destroy online material without needing a court order,” Gul Bukhari, who works at Bytes For All, an NGO working on issues pertaining to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), said.
“There is no check-and-balance. Invasion of privacy is largely unregulated under cybercrime law,” Bukhari said, saying the bill is far more problematic than Investigation for Fair Trial Act 2013 that was also about surveillance.
Political parties role in PECB 2015 adoption
According to reports, political parties in the opposition vehemently rejected the bill in the National Assembly before it was passed. However, the efforts proved futile.
“They (political parties) should have actively participated in the standing committee sessions held since the inception of the bill in 2015,” Dad said.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which holds a majority in the Senate, had “reassured” activists and stakeholders the bill will not pass, the DRF founder said. But it did, she added.
Officials of the Pakistani government lack knowledge on Internet regulation and technology, Dad said. “The bill will be used to settle personal scores. Honest folks will suffer the most,” she added, saying people with malicious intentions know how to get around the Internet and commit cybercrimes without getting caught.
Salient features of PECB 2015
Violator will receive up to three years imprisonment, a Rs1 million fine or both for unauthorised access to critical infrastructure information system or data
The government may cooperate with any foreign government, foreign or international agency, organisation or 24x7 network for investigation or proceedings relating to an offence or for collecting evidence
The government may forward any information to any foreign government, 24x7 network, foreign or international agency or organisation any information obtained from its own investigation if the disclosure assists their investigations
Up to seven years, Rs10 million fine or both for interference with critical infrastructure information system or data with dishonest intention
Up to seven years, Rs10 million fine or both for glorification of an offence relating to terrorism, any person convicted of a crime relating to terrorism or proscribed individuals or groups. Glorification is explained as “depiction of any form of praise or celebration in a desirable manner”
Up to six months imprisonment, Rs50 thousand or both for producing, making, generating, adapting, exporting, supplying, offering to supply or importing a device for use in an offence
Up to three years imprisonment, Rs5 million fine or both for obtaining, selling, possessing, transmitting or using another person’s identity information without authorisation
If your identity information is used without authorisation, you may apply to the authorities to secure, destroy or prevent transmission of your information - SAMAA