ISLAMABAD: The Senate unanimously passed a bill to make provisions for prevention of electronic crimes [The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2016] on Friday.
The Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications, chaired by Senator Shahi Syed, had proposed as many as 47 amendments to the corresponding bill earlier passed by the National Assembly.
On Friday, members of the opposition including Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan, Senator Shibli Faraz and Senator Sherry Rehman presented eight new amendments, adding up to a total of 55 amendments by the opposition members in the Upper House of Parliament.
The day’s proceedings kicked off with a blasting sound, followed by surprised expressions in the house before it transpired that an energy-saver bulb had fused.
When Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani called out to Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication Anusha Rahman Ahmad Khan, she was absent from the house.
Upon being asked of her whereabouts, Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq told the chairman that the minister was in a meeting with the opposition for negotiations over amendments to the bill.
Exasperated over this delay and having no other option, the chairman adjourned the proceedings of the house for half an hour, which extended to well over an hour’s time.
When the minister did arrive in the house, she read out salient features of the bill, stressing on the safeguard of the online rights of citizens of Pakistan in accordance with their offline rights.
She underscored that the rules would ensure that the institutions do not misuse the cybercrime bill. Before she wrapped up, the house took a prayer break for half an hour.
Excluding the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), members from both the treasury and opposition benches expressed reservations, but approved the bill.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker and parliamentary leader Col (Retd) Tahir Hussain Mashadi said he was not against the idea of legislation over cybercrimes, but he was not consulted before amending the bill and was not privy to its contents. Therefore, he abstained from voting for or against the bill.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker and parliamentary leader Nauman Wazir also endorsed the intent to legislate over cybercrimes and set the record right, but said that he was left out in the meeting of the negotiations of the government with the opposition parties.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) lawmaker Hafiz Hamdullah called the move an “undemocratic” and “unconstitutional” when all the members of the house were not taken into account. He asked for the surety that the parties will be allowed to present amendments before it is passed from the NA again.
On the other hand, lawmakers who were aware of the contents of the amended bill, dubbed it an important but imperfect legislation, that was subject to more amendments.
“There are many imperfections and much room for improvement but under the circumstances, this is the best possible formula,” Leader of the opposition commented.
He added that the amendments had been added after consensus from the members of the house. He also expressed surprise over Senator Wazir’s statement, saying Senator Faraz had been in the meeting and had given his input.
Senator Rehman clarified that the meeting had been decided upon a day before, saying there was nothing to hide.
Some of the members also observed that the government had gotten into a habit of legislation at the 11th hour, as witnessed in the cases of the bills pertaining to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and now cybercrime.
Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar said that the bill had been much exhaustively discussed and deliberated upon, adding that nothing is permanent and contents of the bill are open to amendments. “The bill is in the interest of Pakistan. Many have tried to derail and sabotage it in the past,” he added.
Amendments in certain clauses
The new amendments include punishment for recruitment, funding and planning of terrorism to 14 years or fine which may be extended to Rs50 million in clause (10), substitution of the word “racial” for the ethnic in clause 10(a), extending punishment for transmitting “harmful, fraudulent, misleading or illegal information, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may include fine of Rs50,000 to be extended up to Rs5 million in sub-section (3) of clause 22.