KARACHI: A parliamentary panel meeting on a draft bill against cyber crime was delayed indefinitely on Monday after stakeholders were unable to arrive at a consensus on the bill drafted by industry and legal experts.
Information technology experts from the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), along with cyber crime lawyer Barrister Zahid Jamil, have redrafted the defunct Prevention of Electronics Crime Ordinance (Peco), in the hope of turning it into a law.
This 40-page redraft was recently submitted to the National Assembly’s Select Committee on Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which has held back-to-back meetings with stakeholders.
The process, however, may take longer as two key stakeholders, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and P@SHA, are unable to reach a consensus on critical clauses, sources say.
According to P@SHA sources, the industry’s redraft requires that FIA should follow strict procedural guidelines to avoid misuse of power. The federal agency is not willing to compromise on its authority.
Under Peco, investigation and prosecution agencies were given indiscriminate freedom to conduct searches and seize data and electronic equipment in case of any activity that they deemed suspicious. The ordinance was never turned into law as it faced criticism that it threatened civil liberties of freedom of speech and action, intellectual property, and the right to conduct business in a safe environment.
“We addressed all these shortcomings and redrafted the whole PECO from scratch after one year of extensive work to make it a 21st century bill,” said Afaque Ahmed, a member of P@SHA’s central executive committee who has exclusively been working on the draft.
P@SHA gave its final presentation on their redraft of Peco during the November 6 meeting of the committee which comprises ministries of IT and law, FIA and internet service providers’ association. The FIA was not prepared to submit its comments on the industry’s draft during that meeting, and requested more time.
“We went through the whole document line by line and word by word with the FIA. Officials of the ministry of IT and telecoms were also present,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune. “By and large, no one had any objection to the draft so there is no reason not to pass the bill.”
The FIA is not willing to compromise on its powers; the industry, too, wants to protect its interest. Two sides, therefore, will never have a consensus on this issue, Ahmed said on the impasse causing delay.
The NA’s select committee had set November 20 as deadline for final presentations to make sure that the bill isn’t delayed further.
The meeting, however, was cancelled on Monday for an indefinite period, confirmed committee chairperson MNA Khwaja Sohail Mansoor.
“A very important session of the assembly was underway,” he said, citing the reason behind the cancellation. Mansoor further said the next date of the meeting would be announced soon.
However, a source in the FIA said several meetings took place in the Ministry of Information Technology, where all stakeholders including the FIA were invited.
“Almost all contentious clauses in the bill have been agreed upon after all stakeholders submitted their recommendations,” he added.
However, the official added, it would take another week or so before the ministry comes up with a final consensus draft of the bill to be presented in the committee.
The select committee would discuss it and then lay before the house in the next session, he added. This delay in achieving a consensus draft was the reason why the select committee meeting was cancelled, another FIA official claimed.
WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR CORRESPONDENT IN ISLAMABAD.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2012.