Cyber Bill: Bloggers ask Anusha Rahman not to place curbs on freedom of expression in the name of terrorism and heinous crimes

  • New law will be draconian
  • Journalists and civil society also raise voice against it
  • PM must intervene

By Iram Salim

Bloggers in Pakistan have asked IT State Minister Anusha Rehman not to place any kind of curbs on them in the name of terrorism or heinous crimes. The Cyber Bill has made its way to the Parliament and the bloggers are worried if it approved in the present form there would be worst kinds of curbs will be placed on the freedom of expression. Urging Ms Rahman to revisit the bill contents and incorporate the bloggers, civil society and journalists suggestions in it.

Dawn also writes: “The government needs reminding that the only thing worse than the lack of a legislative framework covering an area of operations is a set of bad laws. This seems to be the case regarding the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, finalised by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications, a report on which was laid before parliament this month.”

With the digital footprint expanding fast in Pakistan and the rapidly increasing use of information technology and the Internet by those who have access, certainly there is a need to develop laws to curb these tools being used in problematic fashions.

These include a range of activities, from support provided by technology and the online world to heinous crimes such as militancy and terrorism, to practices more pedestrian but almost equally devastating on the level of the individual such as cyber-stalking, fraud and data theft. But is the PECB in its current iteration the best way forward?

Amongst industry representatives and stakeholders, there seems to be near unanimous consensus that it is not. Legislators need to pay heed. The problems with this bill in its current form appear to be numerous, some of which were articulated by PPP MNA Shazia Marri who submitted a dissenting note when the report was tabled in parliament.

Raising objections to certain definitions and asking for amendments, she added that some of the penalties for minor infringements are too harsh, such as imprisonment for up to two years for cyberstalking.

She also argued against Section 34 on the power to manage information systems, which she said gives the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority the power to block any website it deems is carrying ‘objectionable’ or ‘offensive’ content.

This is a serious concern, and readers will be all too aware of how in the past such loose definitions have been used to stifle dissent against the government of the day and to curb the freedom of expression. IT industry experts have also alleged that the draft bill is distorted in focus with a security-related mindset underpinning it.

Further, concern has been expressed that the proposed law fails to provide adequate security to Internet users while at the same time creating heavy penalties for crimes that can be committed unintentionally, such as sending a text message without the receiver’s consent or criticising the actions of the government on the social media.

In short, there is enough to raise very serious doubts about the efficacy of this bill in its current form. More attention needs to be paid to the critiques against it, with a view to carrying out further modification on the recommendations of experts.

This is a task for the legislators who must resist any attempt to rush it through into law. Right now, Pakistan is getting ready to formulate cybercrime laws; there is a dire need to get them right. Pak Destiny

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