Pakistan’s proposed cybercrime bill threatens civil liberties on the pretext of security

The Pakistan National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT) on Thursday passed a controversial cybercrime bill that industry leaders and civil society members have been protesting against – see objections in the media release below as well as the warning sounded by Bolo Bhi, a net freedoms organisation. Two earlier news reports summing up the reservations: In Dawn – New cybercrime bill tough on individuals’ rights, soft on crime and in Express Tribune – Legislative bungling: In a bill about cybercrime, MoIT inserts clauses legalising censorship.

BoloBhi Pasha Cybercrime bill update

“Section 31 is our biggest concern – among others,” says Bolo Bhi in another update. “The government is adding this so they can justify their blocking and censoring powers – since the court has found they exercise these powers under no law.”

The organisation has made available advocacy posters to raise public awareness, a presentation that captures the impact it will have on users and the media, and launched an online petition. Parliamentarians in opposition have been kept in the dark about it.

MEDIA RELEASE

Objections raised by the citizens’ Joint Action Committee (JAC) to the NA Standing Committee on IT proceedings today (both process and content):

  1. Our question to the NA secretariat: was adequate notice not given to the non PML-N members of the Standing Committee, especially those from out of town to enable them to be present at such a critical meeting on the CC Bill? And why was the bill approved in such a  hurry?
  2. This law will not make a bit of difference to the ban on YouTube or its localization (i.e. YouTube.com.pk), so the Minister should not mislead the public. Google was very clear in its letter to the Lahore High Court, that localization was not dependent on just intermediary liability protection, which is being extended through this bill.
  3. Re “perfect legislation,” with potential for 1% misuse, the JAC calls on the PML-N government to provide cast iron guarantees on legal stamp paper that there will be only 1% misuse and questions as to who monitors the extent and quality of such authorized misuse. Why should there be any misuse of a law?
  4. The Minister said that this bill “gives protection to ISPs.” We want details of such protection. On the contrary, provisions pertaining to the telecom operators, such as Section 15, makes them liable for criminal penalties.
  5. On the contrary, we firmly believe that all our constitutional rights to freedom of expression, speech, access, writing and visualisation are definitely under threat of becoming criminal acts, In particular, sections 21, 22, 34.
  6. The IT Minister’s statement that the “broadcast media (TV and newspapers) are not in the purview of this law and this is particular to cyber space”, is not true. Media houses have online platforms which will be adversely impacted by this law. This exposes an ignorance of the current status of the “broadcast” media, which are more in cyber space than in print or on television/radio channels. Moreover, why should only the broadcast media be exempted from this law?
  7. As for the statement that the IT industry should “trust our institutions that they will not misuse this new legislation against them,” the JAC’s response is that 68 years of mal-governance and institutional wrongdoing is not a great precedent for fostering trust.
  8. Regarding the statement that there is “no concept of freedom except as defined in the Quran and Sunnah” FYI Islamic tradition encourages the rule of law, due process and open dissent. So the question arises, do we not need this law at all?
  9. Most importantly, it is untrue to state that the multiple reiterations and revisions of the bill were done in a transparent, participatory and consultative manner. The IT industry and experts have been purposely excluded from the final process.
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