The Electronic Crime Bill 2016, one of the most controversial documents ever proposed in Pakistan, is likely to be approved by senate next week, TechJuice writes. The bill has faced massive amounts of criticism both inside and out of Pakistan’s borders for making actions such as sending a text message – without explicit permission from the receiver – illegal.
Once the bill had forcibly been introduced in 2015, the controversy surrounding the changes grew nationwide. Even members of the government led sub-committee that was organized to analyze the bill claim they were kept out of the loop and the bill was based on a piece of a rough draft. It thankfully went through an amendment process. However, in the current form of the bill, over 100 amendments had been proposed and the house rejected 63 of those but did budge on the remaining 39. Most of the changes were related to fines and prison sentences, not the privacy violations.
Since the bill is set to expire on the week of August 18th, 2016, the Senate is expected to vote to pass it before the 30th of July.
The “Electronic Crime Bill 2016,” as it’s officially called, is set to change the entire course of how the internet is used in Pakistan. Internet advocacy groups have claimed the bill was proposed without considering the freedom of citizens – specifically the freedom of privacy. While the bill is apparently supposed to focus on pressing issues like unauthorized access to data, cyber terrorism, electronic fraud, stalking and spamming – it “encapsulates every conceivable unintended consequence,” one Twitter user says.
Sending text messages to people who haven’t explicitly asked to be texted isn’t the only change to be made. Some of them are made with good intent. “Under the law, the unauthorized use of identity information, tempering of communication equipment, interference with critical infrastructure, information system or data, making, obtaining or supplying device for use of offence, cyber stalking are among crimes which have been made as punishable crimes,” a reporter from Pakistan Today writes. Some are made with not so good intentions. An eery example of censorship in the bill is the new ability for Pakistan to legally be able to block any website in the interest of “friendly relations with foreign states”.
The maximum punishments for the crimes in the bill are Rs 50 million and 14 years in prison. Given that the bill implicates virtually anyone believed to have “intent” to commit a crime, the fine and prison sentence could be harsh for the less serious offenses.
In an effort to harshly punish cyber-terrorists and distributors of child pornography, the bill does allow the government to establish a law enforcement agency to investigate the aforementioned crimes. A forensic lab will also be designated too provide opinions for the benefit of the court in prosecuting offenders. It’s unclear whether or not the new absurdities are an oversight or of the government is blatantly choosing to unnecessarily violate freedoms but it undoubtedly looks like the latter.
It won’t be long before the bill is passed any the internet freedom of innocent civilians will be completely stripped away. The only hope is that the new restrictions and censorship were an oversight and new changes will be made, removing all unnecessarily invasive laws.
The full bill can be read here.