Rights groups urge Senate to grant them a hearing on proposed cyber crime bill

A group of civil society, right bodies and service providers associations has filed a petition in the Upper House


Azam Khan August 21, 2015
Despite the formation of a sub-committee to finalise the new cyber crime bill, the right activists, members of civil society and representatives of service providers were excluded from the process STOCK IMAGE

ISLAMABAD: A group of civil society, rights bodies and service providers have filed a petition in the Upper House of Parliament over the government’s failure to take all stakeholders on board for consultations over the new cyber crime law as per its commitment.

Despite the formation of a sub-committee to finalise the new cyber crime bill, right activists, members of civil society and representatives of service providers claimed that they have been excluded from the process. Members of the opposition in Senate too had raised their objections regarding the bill.

The group, which includes Reporters without Boarders, Free Network, Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), Bytes for All, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Bolo Bhi and others, has made National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Technology a party in its petition.

The petition claims that the government’s proposed cybercrime bill titled ‘The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015’ which is currently pending before the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecom, had drawn immense criticism from industry civil society, media groups as well as from members of opposition.

The digital and human rights groups along with journalist associations under the umbrella of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) had expressed their reservations in writing to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on IT and Telecom, seeking a public hearing on the bill.

Although the JAC’s request for public hearing was not granted, but selected invitations were issued to some members of the committee.

In light of the reservations expressed by the JAC members regarding the proposed draft of the bill during a meeting of the NA Standing Committee on IT, the chair of the committee Captain (retired) Muhammad Safdar constituted a subcommittee so that the bill may be reviewed and all reservations addressed.

Further the legal team of the MoIT was instructed to hold a meeting with members of JAC.

“However to-date we have received no formal notification for any meeting to discuss the bill neither by the ministry and nor by the sub-committee,” reads the petition. Earlier in August, three and four members of the JAC initiated meetings with the legal team of MoIT and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

“On August 5 it was through a television show that we learned a meeting of the NA’s standing committee on IT had been called for the next day to finalise the bill. Similarly members of opposition on the committee hardly received a day’s notice for the meeting and recorded their protest at the meeting held on August 6,” the petition maintained.

The committee meeting on August 6, chaired by Major (retd) Tahir Iqbal, concluded that there would be one more meeting before the bill is finalised.

“Despite submitting a legal redraft, which the committee had asked the JAC to do, and a request for meeting on August 11, we have received no notification for a meeting,” the group held.

Instead, a sub-committee meeting was scheduled once again on a day’s notice for August 13 to discuss the bill with the industry, rights groups, journalist associations stonewalled.

The group in its petition urged the House to allow them their rights to express concerns and reservations.

“We request that all concerned groups and citizens be given at least one opportunity to express their reservations and proposed changes to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015. We would appreciate if a hearing can be called to discuss this so we can explain our reservations and recommended revisions before the respected members of parliament of both the upper and lower house.”

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