The newly introduced Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act provides blanket immunity to the country’s military and civilian intelligence agencies.
Referring to the activities of the armed forces, the government has incorporated a special clause so that the intelligence agencies could retain all their powers. Civilian intelligence agencies are also outside the purview of the new law.
PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar had told the government that there should be “minimum exceptions and exclusions” for the intelligence agencies and a procedure should also be defined for intelligence surveillance.
The draft law, prepared under the supervision of Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rahman, reads: “The offences, powers and procedures provided under this act are not related to and have no application upon the activities, powers or functions of intelligence agencies or services.”
The law also states that the procedures are without prejudice to the operation of or powers exercised under the Telecommunication Act, the Army Act, the Air Force Act, the Navy Ordinance, and the purview of the Intelligence Bureau, the intelligence agency or intelligence service notified by the federal government.
There is little focus on cybercrimes, still the Statement of Objects and Reasons justifies the legislation: that Pakistan has no law at present to comprehensively deal with the growing threat of cybercrimes.
The legislation also protects women against defamation. It states that “whoever, with malicious intent, knowingly and publically exhibits, displays [or] transmits any electronic communication that harms the reputation of a woman … without the express or implied consent of the woman in question … shall be punished with imprisonment for [up to] one year or with fine [up to] one million rupees or both”.
The Ministry of Information Technology has proposed a special investigation agency to probe cybercrimes. The investigators would be empowered to confiscate electronic devices for investigation. However, the bill does not offer any mechanism to block objectionable materials, websites or hate literature.
Sources said the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had conveyed its concerns to the government for not considering the agency for the task.
An FIA official said that giving into the agency’s demand, the IT ministry half-heartedly proposed the FIA’s name to the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2015.