ISLAMABAD: As a parliamentary panel prepares to take up government proposed legislation on cyber terrorism on Thursday (today), IPPs, entrepreneurs and civil society called it an attempt to put a ‘gag’ on freedom of expression and to give the spy agencies unbridled powers.
Headed by Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication will deliberate on “The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2015”.
Under the pretext of the national counterterrorism strategy, the government has incorporated some controversial clauses in the draft bill. Online criticism on religion, country, courts and armed forces are a few subjects which will invoke official intervention.
Article 19 of the 1973 Constitution has been set as landmark for freedom of expression. Anusha Rehman, the minister of state for IT, insists that what they have done after extensive deliberations is the need of the hour. She said some people might criticise them however what they have ensured was the draft was in keeping with Pakistani values and teachings of Islam.
“In view of the NAP, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed introduction of the PEC Bill before parliament without prior approval of his cabinet in terms of Rule 16(1) (a) of the Rules of Business, 1973,” the IT ministry’s Director PR Sagheer Anwar said, defending the ministry’s decision.
The ministry’s spokesperson added that they have all necessary technical and legal resources at their disposal for assistance to present the bill before any forum. Regarding the amendments, he said, “The bill is being reviewed by the National Assembly’s committee in terms of its prerogative as laid down by the legislature.”
The information ministry has incorporated some new clauses in the Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill with an aim to localise YouTube. Despite the new legislation, senior officials of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) are not optimistic regarding restoration of the popular video-sharing service. The PTA has been given the task to prepare a business case for Google administration. But senior officials of the authority told The Express Tribune that it is investor that takes the final decision and we cannot force him to agree with our proposal.
Khurram Zafar, a technology expert, wrote in one of his articles that the safest and most reliable options to resolve this long-pending matter involve getting Google on board and convincing the company to set up a Pakistan-specific domain proxy. A second option is to allow internet users in Pakistan to be the custodians of their own morality and use freely available internet filtering software on their computers and mobile phones to keep their families safe.
After the parliamentary approval, the YouTube administration will examine the business case on whether it was financially a viable option to localise the video-sharing service in Pakistan, a top official in the PTA said.
However, the Pakistan Software Houses Association (PSHA) has claimed that the FIA and IT ministry officials have little knowhow of technical aspects of the proposed legislation.
Speaking at a news conference organised by the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan, PSHA representative Syed Ahmad said the proposed law was discouraging for investors, as it did not offer any protection to them.
“The current draft is unworkable and there are chances of misuse,” he added. “There is need to differentiate between hacking and ethical hacking. Section 31 is our biggest concern. The government is adding this so it can justify their blocking and censoring powers – since the court has found they exercise these powers under no law.”
Wahab Siraj of the Telecom Operatives Association said the PTA was not capable of content analyses and anything could be labeled as obscene and immoral by investigation officers.
Farheeha, a representative of Bolo Bhi, said that in presence of such a law no one would take interest to invest in the IT sector in Pakistan and YouTube restoration would also be not possible. “Any device can be confiscated and there is also need for training of judges and investigators to handle such technical cases,” she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2015.