Lahore (Ali Zain) – Pakistan’s civil and military leadership decided to take the charge against all types of terrorism following a brutal attack of militants on Army Public School Peshawar on December 16, 2014 where over 140 innocent student were killed. A national action plan was devised by a special committee comprising of leaders from all political parties which was formally approved by the government and a new constitutional amendment was also introduced to establish military courts in country aimed to hear terrorism related cases only. The action plan suggested the government to introduce a new law to check the cyber activities of terrorist organizations.
This section said “Social media and the Internet will not be allowed to be used by terrorists to spread propaganda and hate speech, though exact process for that will be finalized”.
Following the instructions Federal Minister for Information Technology Dr Anusha Rehman presented a bill titled “The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2015” in the National Assembly of Pakistan during January 2014. The bill was forwarded to a 20 member standing committee headed by Captain (Retired) Muhammad Safdar to review it and table in the Parliament afterwards for final approval. The committee on Thursday formally approved the bill in a meeting attended by 14 members of the committee and all of them from the ruling party PML-N.
The bill (to be adopted as a new act) suggests substantial imprisonment sentences and heavy fines over different violation using the internet and a large number of vague terms have been added in the text which will obviously cause ambiguity while implementing it. Moreover most of these vague terms can be (at times) used to violate one’s fundamental rights.
When several sections of the bill allows every security personnel to block/remove any of the content that ‘he believes’ is immoral, anti-state, against any friend country of Pakistan or politically unacceptable (it directly challenges one’s right to express his opinion protected under article 19 of constitution without even defining these terms). And violating these sections can cause up to 14 years of imprisonment and millions of rupees as fine. Additionally the law enforcement agencies can arrest you without any warrant (constitution demands the security agency to formally lodge a legal suit before arresting anyone) and officers can confiscate anything ‘they think is worth confiscation’ (constitution allows every citizen to protect his property by law). Above all these violations will be regarded as “Cyber Terrorism” according to the draft text.
However the proposed bill has many other sections that provide online security and discourage spamming whereas it announces to severely punish those who will attempt to hack any government run website or online system. Still these sections need a little more elaboration as the law suggests no legal procedure to the citizens to get benefited from it instead everything has been left for law enforcement agencies (which can at time result in abuse of power).
This development haspushed the IT community of Pakistan to protest against it and social media activists also expressed their anger over the bill under the hash tag #WeRejectCyberBill as it appears to be more targeted towards snubbing the freedom of expression and several other liberties granted the constitution of Pakistan.
Government, before it attempts to get the proposed bill approved by the parliament, should get the bill reviewed by few IT professionals and clearly define the terms used in different sections so that it doesn’t become another “black law”. The law should be more focused on ‘regulation’ of online content to discourage spreading hate speech instead of ‘censorship’ as Pakistan has already blocked the world’s most popular video website and failed to restore it afterwards because the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is probably unable to block the specific content that had resulted in the blockade of whole website content.
The detailed text of the sections of “The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2015” discussed above:
(1) Whoever with the intent to coerce or intimidate or harass any person uses information system, information system network, the Internet, website, electronic mail or any other similar means of communication to:
- communicate obscene, vulgar, contemptuous, or indecent intelligence; or
- make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature; or
- threaten any illegal or immoral act; or
- take or distribute picture or photograph of any person without his consent or knowledge; or
- display or distribute information in a manner that substantially increases the risk of harm or
- violence to any person, commits the offence of cyber stalking.
(2) Whoever commits the offence specified in sub-section (1) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine up to one million rupees, or with both: Provided that if the victim of the cyber stalking under sub-section (1) is a minor the punishment may extend to five years or with fine upto ten million rupees, or with both.
(3) Any person may apply to the Court for issuance of a restraining order against an accused of cyber stalking and the Court upon receipt of such application may pass such order as deemed fit in the circumstances of the case including an order for removal or destruction of, or blocking access to, such material.
Section 18: Offenses against dignity of natural person
- Whoever dishonestly and publicly exhibits or displays or transmits any false electronic communication, which is likely to harm or intimidate the reputation or privacy of a natural person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine up to one million rupees or with both.
Section 24: No warrant, arrest, search, seizure or other power not provided for in the Act:
(1) No person whether a police officer, investigation officer or otherwise, other than an investigating officer of the special investigation agency shall investigate an offense under this Act: Provided that the Federal Government or the Provincial Government may, as the case may be, constitute joint investigation team comprising of the officers of special investigation agency and any other law enforcement agency including Police for investigation of events involving commission of offenses under this Act and any other law for the time being in force.
(2) No person other than a prosecutor designated as such by the special investigating agency shall prosecute any offense under this Act.
Section 25: Expedited Preservation of data.
(1) If an investigating officer is satisfied that
(a) data stored in any information system or by means of an information system, is reasonably required for the purposes of a criminal investigation; and
(b) there is a risk or vulnerability that the data may be modified, lost, destroyed or rendered inaccessible, the investigating officer may, by written notice given to a person in control of the information system, require the person to ensure that the data specified in the notice be preserved and the integrity thereof is maintained for a period not exceeding ninety days as specified in the notice.
(2) The period provided in sub-section (1) for preservation of data may be extended by the Magistrate if so deemed necessary upon receipt of an application from the investigating officer in this behalf.
Section 31: Power to issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any intelligence through any information system:
(1) The Authority or any officer authorized by it in this behalf may direct any service provider, to remove any intelligence or block access to such intelligence, if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offense.
(2) The Federal Government may prescribe rules for adoption of standards and procedure by the Authority to monitor and block access and entertain complaints under this section.
(3) Until such procedure and standards are prescribed, the Authority shall monitor and block intelligence in accordance with the directions issued by the Federal Government.