Senator Sherry Rehman demands toothcomb review of ‘inhumane’ cybercrime bill
Islamabad, October 6, 2015: Taking notice of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) being rushed through the NA, Senator Sherry Rehman on Tuesday said that the PPP will not allow such a bill to go through the Senate.
Asking for a thorough review, she said, “The current version of the cybercrime bill being bulldozed through the Parliament by the ruling party will become a tool for silencing dissent more than its purpose of combating cyberterrorism”.
Rehman said the bill carries dangerous clauses that are open to misuse.
Violation of freedoms
The Senator noted that some sections of the bill provided blanket powers to regulatory and law enforcement authorities not just to curtail freedom of speech, but also to access private data of the individual and the people they are in contact with, as well as to confiscate private properties.
“The bill can become a vicious tool for political victimization and undue subjugation of freedom of expression. The drafting itself leaves a lot to be desired – with open ended construction of sentences and vague wording, the bill in its current form is more a tool for personal and political vendettas than it is a cybercrime bill,” added Rehman.
“A toothcomb review of the bill is imperative to eliminate and amend provisions which are grave violations of Article 19 of the UN Charter, of which Pakistan is a signatory,” said the Senator.
Transparency & accountability
The senator said that in its present form, the bill would allow LEAs to have sweeping powers to arrest by easily bypassing court permission or warrant.
Rehman said the bill also allows the PTA to monitor/exercise control over information transmitted through any device, threatening privacy of citizens and placing restrictive bars on the flow of information itself.
“It also overrides judicial oversight of actions taken under its loosely defined contours. How will transparency be ensured in PTA’s operation, given that it would have access to a massive database of communication and information, for example?” Rehman questioned.
In its current form, the bill not only allows for convenient seizure of data but also fails to lay out a clear procedure on how the seized data is to be used by the authorities. “The federal government will also have the discretion to share data with international agencies and other governments without any oversight, under the bill. With no laws specific to privacy and data protection in Pakistan, it is essential to draw a clear framework for data acquisition, use, and sharing.” she said.
Human rights violations
Rehman said that the bill also allows authorities to search and seize information without any provision for warrants obtained through courts, while ‘authorized personnel’ will have over-riding powers that are not even subject to judicial oversight. “People can be wrongly implicated and subjected to punishments with nowhere to seek justice from. Is this the democracy we envision for ourselves?” she questioned.
The Senator said that more than apprehending criminals, this law seemed like an attempt to chip away at whatever security and freedoms the people of Pakistan are left with.
“Mass messaging or spamming is also a punishable offence in this bill, putting at risk not just civil society and political campaigning but also marketing tools employed by businesses and private sector entities,” she stated.
“Authorities cannot be allowed discretionary invasion of privacy – something that can be conveniently done under this bill,” added Rehman.
Rehman expressed strong reservations against certain definitions in the bill, including one under which even 10 or 13 year olds can be possible offenders, punishable under the law.
“Pakistan is a country where even legal adults at 18 do not have the literacy needed to be aware of this law, or to understand the consequences of it,” stated Rehman.
“Definitional matters and nomenclature may well lead to juvenile arrests under the said bill. How then does this law justify granting the harshest of punishments to them?” she questioned.
Overlapping and contradictory laws
Rehman noted that certain clauses in the bill overlap with other acts like the Pakistan Telecommunication Act or the Defamation Act, which can lead to legal complexities and leave cases in a judicial overhang.
“Many sections of this law contradict those of other laws. In the process where two contradictory laws are put forth, who will decide which one applies when there is no institutional oversight? Will law abiding citizens of Pakistan be wrongfully charged with and convicted of cyberterrorism? How government lawmakers have not deliberated on nuances such as these is beyond comprehension,” added Rehman.
“This bill attempts to crush too many civil liberties and provides many loopholes for just that. The people of Pakistan can never allow such an inhumane law with extreme criminal charges to be passed,” she declared.
“Freedoms are silenced in authoritarian regimes, not democracies. Members of any house of Parliament passing this bill, as well as a ‘democratically’ elected party, would do well to remember that,” concluded Rehman.