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Senate may reject cybercrime bill in its current form

Senate may reject cybercrime bill in its current form

ISLAMABAD: If the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PCEB) 2015 is passed by the National Assembly in its current form, it may encounter resistance in the upper house of parliament.

Participants at a consultation, attended by parliamentarians, stakeholders, civil society and rights activists called on senators to prevent the bill from becoming law in its current form and demanded that the bill be redrafted after addressing the concerns of all parties.

Following the approval of the cybercrime bill by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology, stakeholders came out in opposition to the bill, saying it largely ignored the recommendations they had made during initial consultations with the government.

“The government should get its policies right, instead of making draconian laws that curb individual freedoms,” said former Awami National Party Senator Afrasiab Khattak.

His party colleague, former Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel echoed his point of view when he said, “The bill is regressive and curbs civil liberties in its present form and should be sent back to the committee.”

He also suggested that a public debate be held on the bill to iron out any kinks in the proposed legislation.

Describing the bill as an attack on human rights, PPP MNA Nafisa Shah saw the space for civil liberties shrinking under the guise of fighting terror.

“We are as upset with this bill as we were with the formation of military courts, which do not align with the spirit of Constitution. The early drafts of the bill were more sensitive with regards to individual freedoms, but at some point during the committee’s proceedings, that version was swept under the carpet and this new version was introduced and passed without much debate,” Ms Shah said.

She requested members of civil society as well as the concerned stakeholders to draft amendments and prepare policy guidelines that policymakers could use to ensure that the PECB 2015 was suitably amended.

However, veteran journalist and South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) Secretary General Imtiaz Alam urged the gathering to reject the bill entirely. “Social media is anarchic and cannot be regulated.

We journalists did not accept restrictions on our freedom of expression and neither should you,” he said.

Sadaf Khan from the digital rights group Bytes For All presented a charter of demands that reflected the changes that stakeholders suggested to the current bill.

Rejecting the understanding of ‘security’ that has only been interpreted in the context of national security in the bill, the charter called for a greater focusing on human rights and citizens’ protection.

Stakeholders also demanded the government redraft the bill with due consideration for the globally accepted human rights framework and asked for the strengthening data protection clauses in the bill.

Representatives of Bolo Bhi, ISPAK, the Pakistan Software Houses Association also attended the discussion and called on opposition parliamentarians to play their role in ensuring that the bill did not pass in its current state.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2015

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