Beyond rough edges

Published: April 19, 2015
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Be it a draconian law or an attempt to chastise offenders, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 remains a moot point in public discourse. The proposed bill has rough edges, which can only be ironed out through logic. However, at a time when human rights appear to have been struck off the country’s list of priorities, it is the absence of logic which poses challenges. At first glance, the bill comes across as sufficiently well-meaning. By adopting a strict set of rules to tackle electronic crimes, parliament seeks to ensure security over the internet. More significantly, the dearth of proper investigation measures in such cases has often left victims in a weaker position. As a result, the law allows investigators the opportunity to use their discretion in a wider sense.

Unfortunately, the proposed legislation has many grey areas, which could open a Pandora’s box. Various stakeholders — internet users, in particular — are likely to find themselves in the line of fire as the law threatens to pawn away their right to privacy and freedom of expression to deal with an injustice. ‘Cyber terrorism’ remains a problem across the globe and action should be taken against people who commit such crimes. However, if the law adopts a stringent position without defining flexible parameters, it stands the risk of endorsing injustices rather than reducing their impact.

If the proposed legislation is passed in its current form, it will only be used as a pretext to point fingers at the small fry. Ethical hackers, print and electronic media and even bored teenagers will come under its hammer strokes. The bill also reportedly criminalises political expression in the form of blogs, memes or commentary. This provision not only violates human rights but could produce anarchy if it is implemented without making exceptions.

Moreover, the underlying basis of such expression and its parameters remain unclear. For instance, if someone creates a meme which is shared by a million people, there is no clearly defined criteria against which content can be assessed and blame apportioned among ‘culprits’. Such questions are likely to cast a shadow of doubt on the proposed bill. No matter how effectively the government formulated this draft, it must continue to allow debate and discussion on it. Without consultation, little tangible progress will be made in achieving the bill’s ultimate purpose — creating a sense of security.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2015.

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