Senate passes cybercrime bill after numerous tweaks

Published: July 30, 2016


ISLAMABAD: The Senate unanimously passed the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2016 after incorporating eight new amendments in it on Friday. The bill, which aims to prevent cybercrimes, will now be resubmitted in the National Assembly for approval of the amendments.

A Senate standing committee has proposed 47 amendments to the bill passed earlier by the lower house on April 13. With eight more amendments proposed on Friday by Aitzaz Ahsan, Shibli Faraz and Sherry Rehman, the total amendments proposed by opposition jumped to 55.

The bill seeks punishment for facilitating hate speech, cyber terrorism, illegal issuance of cellular SIM cards and electronic fraud. It makes unauthorised access to sensitive infrastructure and information systems punishable with five years in jail and a fine of up to Rs5 million.

Copy or transfer of data without permission may send a person to jail for a period of up to six months and a fine of Rs0.1 million. Illegal access to
data is punishable by three-month imprisonment and a fine of Rs50,000, as per the bill.

Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunication Anusha Rahman read out the salient features of the bill, stressing that previously, the country lacked any such law to counter criminal activity in the cyberspace.

“The bill aims to provide the same safeguards to the rights of the citizens online, which they have offline. The rules will ensure that the bill is not misused at the hands of institutions,” she said.

The minister assured the house that the law will not be applicable to the license holders under the rules of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). “The ministry is mindful of figuring out ways to prevent misuse of the law as feared by skeptics, who had dubbed it a draconian law,” she said.

Excluding the ruling PML-N, members from both the treasury and opposition benches expressed reservations but approved the bill with the condition to make more amendments later.

Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said despite more than 50 amendments by the opposition, which enriched the bill earlier passed by the NA, they were not completely satisfied with it but added that it was a better scenario than letting the NA bill be passed without consensus in the Senate.

“The new amendments are geared at making the bill more state-friendly and citizen-friendly,” he said.

He said at first the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had expressed concerns over the bill but eventually he [Ahsan] managed to persuade him that it was the “best possible formula in these circumstances”.

“The bill is unique in that it contains provisions for parliamentary and judicial oversight,” he added.

Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar said the bill had been much exhaustively discussed and deliberated upon, adding that nothing is permanent and contents of the bill are open to amendments.

Commending the value-addition by the opposition, he said: “The bill is in the interest of Pakistan. Many have tried to derail and sabotage it in the past.”

The MQM’s parliamentary leader Col (Retd) Tahir Mashadi abstained from voting for or against the bill, saying that he was neither invited nor consulted for the meeting of the government and opposition that decided upon the amendments.

The PTI parliamentary leader Nauman Wazir also endorsed the intent to legislate over cybercrimes but said he was also left out in the meeting for negotiation between the government and the opposition parties on the bill.

The JUI-F lawmaker Hafiz Hamdullah termed it was ‘undemocratic’ and ‘unconstitutional’ not to take all members of the house onboard for the amendments. He asked for a surety that the parties will be allowed to present amendments before it is presented before the National Assembly again.

Speaking on the occasion, the PPP Senator Sherry Rehman Rehman clarified that the negotiations between the government and the opposition took place according to the rules, in the opposition leader’s chamber.

Commenting in the bill, said it was still imperfect and there was more room for amendments. “Cybercrime laws are a work in progress the world over,” she said, adding that as it is a new platform globally, it is essential to save it from becoming a black law.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2016.

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