The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology tasked the sub-committee to complete its review of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill of Pakistan 2015 within two weeks.
On Wednesday, a draft of the bill was presented before the Standing Committee for approval as it met under the chairmanship of Captain (Retd) Muhammad Safdar.
The bill proposes harsh penalties for violators while imposing restrictions on freedom of expression and giving security agencies wide powers of digital surveillance.
Rights group Digital Rights Foundation, in its comments on the draft bill, claimed that apparently Captain (retd) Safdar had not passed on the proposed legislation to parliament.
“In our previous comments we have mentioned that while this draft law contains welcome procedural safeguards, quite a number of provisions violate international standards on freedom of expression and endangers free speech and it lacks procedural safeguards against surveillance activities carried out by intelligence agencies particularly Federal Investigation Agency.”
A parliamentary panel said that the proposed “Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill” to deal with cyber crimes has some flaws; hence they agreed to restructure the proposed law.
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication (IT&T) which met with Captain Mohammad Safdar (Retd) in the chair viewed that the proposed “Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill” drafted 14 months ago whereas; the present scenario is quite different ‘especially after the National Action Plan as certain amendments are required according to the situation.
To avoid overlapping and redundancy with the existing laws, the Committee after taking legal & technical opinion of the experts, unanimously agreed to restructure the “Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill’ before further discussion. The Committee constituted a special committee pertaining to legal and technical experts and four parliamentarians from the IT Standing Committee to co-ordinate with Ministry of Information Technology for restructuring the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill.
The Ministry had introduced the “Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill” in the last committee meeting where a maximum punishment of fourteen years imprisonment with fine of Rs 50 million for “Cyber terrorism” has been proposed. However, the proposed law would deal only with electronic crimes and not terrorism, as explained by the ministry officials. According to the proposed bill, it will deal with illegal access to information system, illegal access to program or data, illegal interference with programme or data, illegal interference with information system, Cyber terrorism, Electronic forgery, Electronic fraud, identity crime and special protection of women amongst many other things.
The committee had also backed the idea of the Ministry to establish ICT courts in the country in its last meeting to look into cases related to Cyber and Electronic crimes despite the strong reservations of other stakeholders. The Committee also raised the issue of grey trafficking, its bad affect on government exchequer, and menace to the lives of masses and observed that the ministry may take stringent measures to curb such mafias.
The committee adopted the suggestion and formed a committee comprising of law-experts including Attorney General of Pakistan Salman Aslam Butt, Special Assistant to Prime Minister and IT experts.
Briefing the Committee, the Minister said that situation has drastically changed in Pakistan as the country was badly hit by terrorism.
“What if they post anti-State elements, what about other cyber crimes, and what about privacy and copy write, this is what this entire bill is about,” she told the committee.
The bill’s copy reveals that new laws would be introduced for punishment and apprehension of the criminals behind grey trafficking.
It also brings changes in laws pertaining to Access Promotion Charge and Universal Service Fund.
The Committee was informed that PTA will be responsible for all intelligence operation in connection to the cyber crimes.
The committee pointed out that 40 per cent of the functional mobile sims are operating illegally causing massive grey trafficking in Pakistan that enhanced the crimes and chances of terrorism.
Some of the members said that if someone grey-called you from Dubai or Kabul it seems as local and nobody can identify location of the callers.
The bill was drafted after thorough study of such laws in Australia and the US, but it was kept in mind that variables are there as no terrorism is going on the soil of those countries, the committee was informed by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister.
The committee asked the technical body to submit its observations and suggestions within 10 days so that the bill could be finalised for tabling in the National Assembly as soon as possible.
The meeting that was chaired by Capt (Retd) Muhammad Safdar was attended by MNAs, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiyar, Sardar Awais Ahmed Leghari, Farooq Sattar, Zahra Wadood Fatmi and others while officials from the concerned Ministry and experts were also present on the occasion.