Ambiguities in Cybercrime Bill

There are ambiguities regarding whether it aims to stomp down on terrorism & hate speech or curb right to free speech

Editorial April 14, 2016
There are ambiguities regarding whether it aims to stomp down on terrorism & hate speech or curb right to free speech. STOCK IMAGE

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) was passed in the National Assembly on April 13 and will now be presented before the Senate, where it is hoped that a much more lively debate on its clauses will occur than the one witnessed in the lower house. The PECB was initially introduced in January 2015, drawing sharp criticism from the opposition, as well as civil rights activists who described the Bill as being vague, draconian, unreasonable and outdated. They proposed amendments to the PECB, some of which have been adopted, but some features and harsh punishments continue to be worrying.

There is no doubt that Pakistan has needed a rigorous and well thought-out plan to deal with terrorism, with cyberspace having been used to good effect in spreading hatred and forwarding a nefarious agenda. Hate speech has become increasingly common on social media and there is a clear need to curb it. But in that pursuit, the fine line between coming down hard on hate speech and subverting the right to free speech has become hazy and that is where the PECB was supposed to provide the balance. The earlier version of the Bill leaned more towards censorship and this is why it took over a year to get it cleared in the National Assembly. Even now, there are clauses that border on the invasion of civil rights, and we hope there is a more meaningful discussion in the Senate. Cyber stalking, bullying and harassment are issues that need to be dealt with and we welcome the measures instituted in the Bill in this regard. At the same time, worryingly, there are clauses which allow the government the power to remove, block or issue directions for the removal of, or blocking access to, any information if it is against “public order, decency or morality”. How exactly can we define what is decent and moral in a country that is deeply divided on every other issue and who gets to determine these definitions? Additionally, a fine and imprisonment for sending messages “irritating to others or for marketing purposes”, would mean that most businesses could end up being penalised. We welcome the fact that amendments to the earlier version of the Bill were made, but this is not enough as there are still ambiguities regarding whether it aims to stomp down on terrorism and hate speech or curb the right to free speech and civil liberties.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2016.

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Fahad Khan | 8 years ago | Reply PECB 2015 - a much-needed law Society is a environment where humans co-exist with their fellow humans. This co-existence can only be possible if all these people follow some important rules otherwise life will become unbearable. Civil laws like the law of torts allows people to enjoy a better existence without others usurping their rights. Similarly, the recently passed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 is a good move as it will give cover to people using cyber space. There are many who are criticising this law but many others are very happy for this as it will protect users from cyber harassment and other crimes that can make life miserable. Cyber space makes people, especially the young, vulnerable from attacks by predators. This crime will protect such people from attacks. The strict punishments will ensure that people misusing the cyber space will face consequences. This was a much-needed law and it is about it was passed. This is another feather in the cap of the government.
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