Bolo Bhi, a digital rights organisation, has been striving to make the internet a free and representative space for civic and political engagement.
It organized a discussion at the Centre of Excellence in Journalism, IBA and invited experts to help identify loopholes and weaknesses in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, and its misuse by investigation agencies.
The experts shared their views on the law that was enacted in 2016 to curb cyber-terrorism, hate speech and sexual harassment.
One of the biggest problems that come with cases under PECA is that these cases are also filed under the Pakistan Penal Code, said Shumaila Hassan, a lawyer for Bolo Bhi.
“When harassment cases are lodged, sections of defamation are added to them as well, she said. “Now, where PECA has its own Section 20 for such an offence, the FIA adds Section 500 of PPC along with it as well.”
“It means that same cases are heard by different courts simultaneously. This not only creates ambiguity, but also impacts convictions.”
Another lawyer, who preferred to give only his first name, Nisar, said the Federal Investigation Agency does not have a proper understanding of the law.
“If an offence is exclusively committed on the cyberspace, you can’t apply penal code on it,” he said.
Hassan pointed out: “You can’t digitally file a cybercrime complaint. It can only be registered if you’re physically present at the FIA office.”
She said in most of the cases the complainant is forced to compromise, adding that “10 Investigation Officers are handling 52 peca cases in Karachi which means one IO has to handle 5 to 6 cases. Are they even incapable of handling this much burden?”
“The FIA does have a lack of resources. The agency often complains that they don’t have the capacity,” Nisar said.
The panelists concluded that PECA greatly lacks checks and balances, the FIA has a lot of external influences and the investigating officers either have vague or insufficient knowledge of cyberspace.