The business community, Information Technology professionals and civil right activists have long been urging the Pakistan government to introduce a comprehensive law to curb cybercrime in the country. In this regard, the government has been contemplating the approval of a regulatory bill since a long time now.The continuous delay in the finalization, approval and implementation of this law is now raising anxiety among the various stakeholders.
A comprehensive bill against Cybercrime was drafted in 2014, which involved detailed consultations with the key stakeholders. The draft includes clearly defined clauses that criminalize; hacking, identity theft, using sexually explicit images for blackmail, and other recognized actions that take advantage of both the anonymity and technology available through the internet and data systems. However, the Ministry of Information Technology has recently added some very harsh and unfair clauses in the bill, without taking any input from the stakeholders. The new clauses deny the freedom of expression to the common citizens. The President of All Pakistan Business Forum (APBF) Mr Ibrahim Qureshi recently expressed his disproval on this act, stating that; According to these newly added unfair clauses, the internet users in the country can be fined or even imprisoned for some very minor cyber-offenses like; Sharing information that the government considers to be; Inappropriate, Vulgar or against the glory of Islam.
Mr. Ibrahim said that; These alterations are unjustifiable, as the Ministry has significantly altered the original intent of the regulation, thus threatening the freedom of expression of the common internet user. The revised bill can be easily misused, as the intelligence agencies and the political or government officials have now been granted the powers to unduly censor or harass and even punish any common citizen or organization. The President of APBF further stated that: If this new draft of legislation is passed; The Individuals, civil society and the media could get fined, arrested and imprisoned for everyday online activities, and even offline conduct. Some of these unfairly punishable offenses include; Sending any email without the recipient’s permission, Political comment/criticism or Caricatures and Cartoons of politicians and celebrities, Testing a systems security, Immoral messages over email, Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and blogs, Posting a photograph of any person without his/her permission, sending certain advertisements and other offenses like Blasphemy and defamation. Quite oddly, some objectionable actions like; Illegal access to programs or apps, taking down a website and certain kinds of phishing, have not been included as offensive conduct.
Moreover, several human rights and civil liberties safeguards are also missing from the draft. In fact, the proposed legislation actually restricts access to information and obstructs international cooperation on cybercrime and terrorism in several ways. The Bill also imposes additional obligations like: Everyone from a cybercafé to a hotel/ blogger etc., would be required to retain traffic data for a period of 90 days.