Senate toes government’s lines: Inadequacies lurk in Cybercrime Bill 2016
By Haroon Baloch
Senate’s standing committee on information technology and telecommunications, on Tuesday, approved the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2016 with so called a number of “significant amendments”. However, these amendments do not reflect the human rights friendly approach being demanded by the civil society groups working on digital rights.
After a quick analysis of amendments proposed by the senate body, one can ascertain that the scope of the bill has further been expanded by incorporating vague and undefined terminologies, for example inclusion of a new section on hate speech as sub-section under cyber-terrorism. This particular section does not provide qualifications of hate speech and use of wording such as ‘whoever’ and ‘likely to advance’ makes it a highly controversial provision with potential of being used to settle personal scores, especially against religious minorities.
Sections on dignity of natural person (18 & 19) are threatening for free expression especially to journalists and satirists criticizing public figures, the governments and institutions for corruption and wrongdoings. The bill still offers much space to criminalize the expression of journalists and whistle-blowers under sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 18, 19, 34, and 45.
Concerns related to right to privacy are the same as in the previous draft bill passed by the national assembly on April 13, 2016. In this bill, real-time surveillance without seeking permission from the courts will put the privacy of citizens in jeopardy. Similarly, sections such as retention of traffic data by service providers for one-year is against the global standards. A similar provision from European law, called Data Retention Directive was struck down by the European Court of Justice on grounds of ‘serious interference with the rights to privacy and personal data protection of individuals’. In the absence of effective data protection mechanisms in Pakistan, this section raises serious concerns of private data of citizens being misused.
(Blog reflects the writer’s personal views)