The wary ones: One step forward, several steps back

Speakers criticise the cybercrime bill, term it nothing but a curse


Bilal Memon November 29, 2015
PHOTO: AYSHA SALEEM/ EXPRESS

KARACHI: At a time when Pakistan embraces next-generation mobile broadband technology, announcing its intent to invite global e-commerce players, a discussion on the cybercrime bill would remind citizens that there is still a long way to go before the word "progressive" could be used for the country's information technology space.

The second day of the School of Tomorrow conference saw a rather passionate and agitated discussion where it was established, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) is nothing, but a "curse and all the synonyms one can come up with".

The three speakers, apart from minor differences in opinion, were all on the same page. Barrister Zahid Jamil, who has also helped several countries draft cybercrime laws, called the PECB "impractical".

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"The bill has been drafted for political gain," Jamil said, referring to content one can put up on the internet that targets political parties or its members. "Through this bill, they want to see how they can criminalise actions or words against them."

Farieha Aziz and Fahad Desmukh, with their background in journalism and a knack of balancing stories, tried but were unable to balance this one.

Aziz said the Rehman Malik-PIA episode, which went viral on social media and ensured, to an extent, that such incidents do not happen in the future, would have seen the person who filmed the event arrested. "The point of filming such videos is not harassment, but a way of holding them accountable, answerable -- to ensure some sort of transparency in the system," said Aziz.

The PECB -- which is swiftly making its way up the approval chain -- was meant to criminalise illegal acts that are not covered by the penal code. Jamil said the bill has gone a step further and included "immoral behaviour" in its grasp. "They [authorities] are not realising it, but Pakistan's investment climate will suffer, companies will be wary of doing business here," said Jamil.

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"You are hindering research that is essential in the digital sphere."

Just when participants thought the proceedings were enough of an eye-opener, Aziz, a co-founder and director at Bolo Bhi, came up with more food for thought.

"Imagine the conversation on your mobile phone being open for authorities to listen to. You can understand how this equipment can be used to spy against you."

Jamil then summed up with a headline quote, calling the PECB "by far, the worst piece of cybercrime legislation in the world".

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