Civil society lodges complaint against proposed E-crimes Bill: Pakistan

PESHAWAR: After expressing concern over the present draft of the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill at a series of awareness sessions, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network has also lodged a complaint at the provincial Human Rights Directorate for taking up its reservations with the government.

“We are concerned that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, in its current form, contains provisions that violate international standards of the freedom of expression and the right to privacy,” the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network stated in the complaint submitted by its representative Taimur Kamal with the Director Human Rights, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Noor Zaman Khattak.

An official of the directorate told The News that the director forwarded the complaint to the provincial Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Human Rights Department for taking up the civil society reservations over the proposed bill with the federal Law and Justice Division.

Qamar Naseem, programme coordinator of Blue Veins and focal person of KP Civil Society Network, told The News that they had organised several awareness sessions for various stakeholders about the current draft bill. “We have also started lobbying sessions with the senators and MNAs of the main political parties for bringing the bill in line with the international standards of the freedom of expression,” Qamar Naseem said.

Explaining their reservations over the draft bill, he said it requires any internet provider, including anyone providing a premises or facility for the public to access the internet, to store internet data for at least one year and produce it when ordered by the authorities, regardless of whether this is lawful.

He said the bill re-criminalises actions already criminalised in Pakistan Penal Code, which may result in similar conduct being treated differently and inconsistently.The key reservation of the KP Civil Society Network is the use of vague language in the bill affecting the freedom of expression. “The draft bill contains vague language that may invite arbitrary and subjective application resulting in violation of the freedom of expression and Pakistan’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” said the written complaint.

It said the government proposed an expensive investigatory agency with expansive, over-reaching surveillance powers but little, if any, meaningful judicial oversight, which may curtail the exercise of the freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

It added that Article 19 of the ICCPR requires state parties to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers.

The Human Rights Committee has stated that, “any restrictions on the operation of websites, blogs, or any other internet-based electronic or other such information dissemination systems must comply with Article 19 of ICCPR.”

The government has said the bill intended to protect the freedom of expression. The civil society initially applauded the government for aiming to protect the freedom of expression. However, after going through the proposed draft bill, the civil society termed it against the freedom of expression. It expressed concern over several provisions of the bill and started public and stakeholders’ consultation.

Qamar Naseem said that forcing of the bill through the National Assembly Information Technology Standing Committee was an indication of the lack of consensus about the bill’s effectiveness in combating cybercrime in line with fundamental rights. He said many provisions of the bill continue to pose risk to the right to privacy among other rights. He said the amended bill continues to mandate that service providers retain data about Pakistanis’ telephone and email communications for a minimum of one year.

The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2007 expired in 2009. After a gap of five years, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication prepared a draft bill “The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2014” in February 2014.

After a year of preparing the draft that evolved into the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 (PECB 2015), it was introduced in the National Assembly on January 16, 2015. The bill was referred to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology the same day and the Committee prepared its report on the bill on April 16, 2015 by passing a revised version of the bill.

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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