Tuesday September 28, 2021

Amendments to Cyber Crime Bill stressed

July 25, 2016

Islamabad

The state has obligations and binding commitments to protect the right to information and freedom of expression of its citizens, which are being curtailed in the Cyber Crime Bill. This was the assertion made by participants at the Jinnah Institute roundtable titled 'Beyond the Firewall: Freedom of Speech in a Censored Democracy," says a press release.

Among the issues identified at the roundtable was a lack of clarity as to what constitutes an offence under the Bill. Participants noted that confusing cyber crime and cyber terrorism has meant that very high punishment has been proscribed for cyber crime. They suggested that the Anti-Terrorism Act, which already includes surveillance mechanisms for electronic terrorism, should be used to monitor and punish cyber terrorists.

Participants urged that it was important to distinguish between matters of national security and public interest, to ensure that the powers granted for surveillance and investigation are not misused. It was suggested that subsections within the law which negatively impact freedom of expression should be identified and accordingly amended.

It was noted that the proposed bill does not distinguish between telecom offences, cyber crimes and others, and has increased the liability placed on businesses and service providers. This has led to an increase in censorship on social media and other platforms, which are important tools for citizen awareness and collective action.

With media expanding in Pakistan, there is definitely need for regulation, but not at the expense of privacy. Under the bill, investigative officers are not subject to a fixed procedure of accountability when they follow up on complaints, and can use acquired data as per their discretion. As there is no data protection legislation present, participants acknowledged that the retention of data runs contrary to the right of privacy.

It is a very critical time to take action on the Cyber Crime Bill, as changes will go back to National Assembly and elongate the process. It is essential to identify exactly where curtailments are coming from and how citizens can approach it, in order to safeguard freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.