Did You Notice, Preventing Crime Too Went Cyber?
The Cybercrime Bill NA passed should get more attention than it currently has
Since Panama Papers dawned upon us, all the political animals, regardless of age, sex, place, occupation, creed or complexion, are busy speculating about the fortunes of House of Sharif. The debates feature, among many other ‘scenarios’, a beastly spectre of martial law lurking silently in the shadows, an end to the might of corrupt politicians, a national government taking oath soon, an election this year and many other ‘pies in the sky’.
In midst of all this we’ve all but forgotten a bill that was approved by our National Assembly and is only a Senatorial nod and Presidential sign away from becoming a law. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 was passed earlier this month by NA but was overshadowed by more sensational, more arresting Panama Papers. The bill was highlighted in couple of news stories, analyses and scores of op-eds but the mighty tales of money stashed away denied the Cybercrime bill the scrutiny it merited.
About time that I don my black coat, sharpen my blunt legal reasoning, look a tad bit more judicious, weigh the bill and put forward what is good about it and what is not.
The good thing about the bill is that it improves on the legislation previously done on the subject. During the last decade, especially during Musharraf’s regime, the following acts and ordinances have been put in place to regulate the electronic transaction and make cyberspace more secure. They include: The Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002, The Payment Systems and Electronic Fund Transfers Act, 2007, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, Pakistan 2007 and Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, Pakistan 2008.
The apologists term the bill as a much-delayed, much-needed piece of legislation aiming to counter hate speech and spread of sectarianism online. The State minister of IT, Anusha Rehman, is of the view that presently Pakistan has no mechanism at all to halt the misuse of cyberspace. Since 2005, Pakistan has seen a revolution in IT. Ranging from internet access given to a huge chunk of populace, possession of cell phone by all and sundry to ubiquitous presence of technology at both home and workplace, wherever one looks one comes in contact with technology in various forms and hues. However, the widespread of technology also has a dark side to it. Various scandals and videos showing individuals in indecent poses, instances of online blackmailing and incidents harassment have become regular feature of our daily dose of news. Those who hail the cybercrime bill as good legislation cite that those involved in cyber stalking, harassment and blackmailing will be held to account for their heinous deeds and an exacting punishment will be meted out to them.
The detractors, mostly hailing from media, advocacy groups and civil society, have termed the bill thoroughly Draconian. The critics cite various sections of the bill and fear that it’ll stifle dissent and make society more insipid as it criminalizes free speech and freedom of expression. Furthermore, they point out that the strict punishments and fines ranging from thousand of rupees to millions are not proportionate. The commentators also pinpoint another very vital issue that is whether the state has necessary infrastructure, trained personnel and relevant expertise to trace, track and catch the wrongdoers. Furthermore, in order to make the whole cybercrime enterprise come to life state needs a new institution like F.I.A and NAB. as at present no such agency exists and even F.I.A is ill-equipped to administer, enforce or implement the cybercrime bill that is only one Senate away from becoming law.
I asked Mr. Majid Bashir, a renowned international law expert and senior associate of ABS & Co about the cybercrime bill and how it’ll affect our lot.
“It is a very good initiative undertaken by government. But there must be certain things that need to be addressed. First thing first, presently Pakistan has no infrastructure or enforcement agency to implement the cybercrime act in letter and spirit. Secondly, the three phases of administration, enforcement and implementation will prove to be a great challenge as the phenomenon of cybercrime is relatively new and can’t be fought with conventional mindset or techniques. It calls for an independent investigative agency devoted to cyber crimes solely. Thirdly, there are grey areas, the punishments are severe, and the issue of children using phones and tablets remain hugely unaddressed. Lastly, there is virtually no awareness campaign by government about the impending law. The government must educate the masses through various mediums i.e. TV, newspapers, social media, the masses must know about their rights, their duties and be aware of the protection they have under law,” said Mr Bashir.
In our cyber-inundated days where click-baits kill us on every other page, where we can buy anything online, whether a needle or a haystack, where social media has made us asocial, if not antisocial and where our very existence is endangered by strides made in artificial intelligence there is dire need of legislation that pertains to cyberspace.
State needs to be mindful of the safety, well being and security of an individual in the realm of cyberspace. To conclude, our state must act like a guardian angel, protecting us from evil and misery. We most certainly can’t benefit or endure an Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ who aims to kill us for our own good.
This article was previously published in Pakistan Today and is being republished here with permission.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.