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PECB approved by National Assembly

11 August, 2016

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ISLAMABAD: The controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015 has been approved by National Assembly here on Thursday (today). The bill had been sent to NA for approval after Senate unanimously adopted the bill earlier last month in July. After all the proceedings, according to law, President Mamnoon Hussain will have to sign the bill.

Let’s see what critics say about the cyber bill:

Critics say the bill is too harsh, with punishments that do not fit crimes.

The bill's language leaves it open to abuse by LEAs, agencies, the government.

Recommendations of stakeholders were ignored in the formulation of the law.

It restricts freedom of expression and access to information.

The offences are too numerous, overlap with other existing laws.

The wording of the bill leaves many clauses open to interpretation.

The bill specifically can be misused to target journalists’ sources and whistleblowers.

Criteria for surveillance is even more open-ended than in the Fair Trial Act 2013.

Mechanisms for implementation are missing from this bill.

The bill has introduced clauses on cyberterrorism, which is not the subject of the bill.

The authority designated under the new law should have been independent of the executive.

The authority has been given sweeping powers to blocking and destroy online material, without a court order.

It does not adequately differentiate cyber crime from cyber terrorism and cyber warfare.

Salient features of the new bill are as follow:

Up to three years imprisonment, 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.

Certain sections of the cyber bill were condemned by political parties that would take away nation’s freedom of expression.

The PPP’s Parliamentary Leader Naveed Qamar started the debate, saying that it was a draconian law, which is violative of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. “It is certain that the draft will not stand up to scrutiny of the court of law,” he added.

Qamar said under the bill the minimum age for punishment is 10-year which is ‘incomprehensible’ as on the one hand the government talks about the child rights while on the other hand it takes such steps. “None of us will be spared if this law is used in undemocratic way,” he warned.

MQM lawmaker Ali Raza Abidi also deplored certain sections of the bill, which, he said, are totally unacceptable. He also objected to eight of 51 amendments to the bill passed by the Senate.

“Youth will be the prime victim of the new law as it is not necessary that the public will have the knowhow about ethics and laws of social media,” he said.

Abidi asked whether people should purchase birds as communication through cyber space will become perilous after passage of this law. “The bill is criminalising and demoralising the population,” he added.

PTI’s Ali Muhammad Khan feared that even if not by the current government, the law might be used against opponents by the future rulers.

“Our youth is getting politicised and it is for the good of country but passage of this bill will discourage them to take part in political activities or debate [on cyberspace],” he said, adding that section 9 of the bill is criminalising the use of internet for criticising politicians or seeking information about them.

“The government should remove all the politically motivated sections of the bill,” he added.

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