After the advent of 3G and 4G technology in Pakistan, cyberspace seemed to be more sensitive area. Cybercrime’s rate in Pakistan is also considerably increasing day by day. To control any such like situations law is the only tool. Even if the issue got attention somewhere in preceding years that also proved to be an attempt to misuse the law either in favour or against someone. This remained a dilemma in Pakistan that whenever this issue was focused, it was with some hidden motives and not to redress the grievances of the aggrieved.
Initially due to lack of any proper specific legislation on this subject, offences relating to cybercrime are dealt under Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002 (ETO 2002). ETO 2002 was promulgated after accepting the challenging situation created by the increased use of internet vis-a-vis electronic commerce. Section 36 of ETO 2002 penalises the violation of privacy with imprisonment up to seven years whereas Section 37 of same penalises the damage to information system with imprisonment up to seven years.
On perusal of preamble of Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002, it is clear that this law was not enacted with an intention to penalise the offences relating to cybercrimes. That is the reason limitations of this law are very much visible. Due to the increase in use of computer, new ways of crime were emerged but none of them was included in this Ordinance, hence made this legislation less effective. The effect of this legislation is that most offenders easily escape from the law and judges are unable to frame charge against them.
After observing the deficiencies in Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002 with respect to cybercrime a detailed law was introduced in the form of Ordinance i.e. Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2007 (PECO 2007). PECO 2007 was likely to improve problems relating to misuse of technology. Since, this Ordinance, to a certain extent, gives provisions regarding cyber or electronic crimes and devices to curb the menace through effective legislation. But unfortunately, this ordinance remained unable to attain the status of an Act, hence, repealed in 2009. Since then, offences relating to cybercrime are dealt under ETO 2002.
After passing of six years, fortunately, cybercrime laws came under limelight again in 2014 when three bills were introduced before Parliament -- two were tabled before Senate and one before National Assembly. One was Cyber Security Council Bill, 2014 was introduced before Senate by Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed. This bill proposed the formation of National Cyber Security Council empowering the Council to make policies, guidelines and governance model, conduct research, advise different branches of government, to make laws and to analyse the situation in international perspective and more.
The other bill was Protection of Cybercrimes Bill 2014, introduced by Senator Karim Ahmad Khawaja with a purpose to prevent unauthorised acts with respect to electronic crimes and for related offences as well as procedure for their investigation, trial, prosecution, punishment and international collaboration in this regard.
Third bill namely Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2014 was introduced by Ms. Anusha Rehman, Minister of State for Information Technology. It is presented before National Assembly. This law is under heated discussion currently. This bill was introduced in 2014 and approved few days back by the Parliament and it is waiting for the assent of the president. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill gained more attention due to vast coverage of crimes in it. It is penalising the unauthorised access, copying, transmission, interference with information system and critical infrastructure information system or data.
Moreover, if any of the above mentioned acts done with intention to create fear in society shall be punished with imprisonment of fourteen years. Electronic forgery and fraud is penalised which will definitely help to curb emerging related crimes in Pakistan. Identity information should not be obtained or used by anyone without authorisation, if so it would be criminalised. Offences against dignity like displaying and transmitting of false information with intention to harm the reputation or privacy of natural person is a declared offence now but there is an important exception, and that is, if anything aired by the broadcast media or distribution service licensed under Pemra Ordinance 2002. No one would now think to blackmail or harm the reputation of other by displaying immoral pictures otherwise person would face criminal liability. No individual will do cyber stalking by threatening or creating fear for any kind of contact. Glorification of an offence or convict of a crime relating to terrorism is also penalised. Selling of unauthorised SIM cards will declared as an offence. This is comprehensive law which was dire need of the time.
This area was remained neglected by the Parliament but this time concerned authorities taken this issue with much seriousness and commitment, which resulted in the passing of this bill after exhaustive debates. This law is passed and certain issues can be removed and improved through amendments. This is the beauty of law that it can be changed anytime through amendments as per requirement of time.
The way this bill was presented, perused, shared and discussed with the stakeholders and public at large is significant. Moreover, the way the criticism over the bill was welcomed is also appreciable and improvements were made in the light of the suggestions. After passing of any Act people have two options whether to do criticism for the sake of criticism or to do criticism with suggestion to make laws better and more practicable.
Ministry of Information Technology is to be commended for making it possible and all the stake holders are also to be acknowledged for giving their feedback and for helping to improve this upcoming legislation for Pakistan which is need of the hour.
Even after the passage of this Bill from the Parliament a lot of criticism is on record. The critics to this law were of the view that this law might pose serious obstacles in freedom of information and some provisions of the law needs clarification since according to them there is a danger of misuse of certain provisions. But, prudently observing those obstacles, if any, could be taken care of by suitable amendments. Those should be welcomed by the Parliament to amend and improve the law. If the same is not done this time then again Pakistan will be in a position of lawlessness in terms of cybercrimes.
The author is serving as Senior Assistant Professor at University in Islamabad and she earned PhD (Criminal Law) with research focus on Cybercrime laws.