Opinion, Technology

Revisiting Pakistan’s Proposed Cyber Crime Bill

Cybercrime bill pakistan

Soon after the invention of internet, the world has been revolutionized with immense changes. Especially the eve of social media has totally changed the concept of mortal life. A virtual world has been created, a world which virtually exists and is practiced by the major part of global population. Around 1.5 billion people worldwide have access to the internet with the numbers rapidly increasing by the day.

By developing a virtual world, the internet has provided a great opportunity to people to freely and easily express their view point on various issues. Whether they are  socio-cultural critics, political participants, corporate gadflies, economy analysts, science experts or even a common man, they all can express their opinion about anything. Mutual interactions, information sharing and the ability to freely express one’s opinion has created a free world, at least virtually.

This virtual freedom is considered, by some observers, a revival of sustainable democratic values. They consider it a virtual “Hyde Park” of the world, a platform where absolute freedom should exist.

However, on the other hand, there are some who consider the absolute power to free speech, as well as the content shared on internet to be not only offensive but even frightening. Pornography, Religio-cultural hate speeches, threats, identity thefts and generally debilitating ethical norms seem to be going out of control.

Two different opinions and debates on virtual freedom led the authorities to accomplish a proper legislature in order to set some basic rules. Cyber crime, criminal offences on the internet, should be penalized just as it is done in real world, it was decided. In this regard, world authorities defined specific and typical laws to be practiced under the umbrella of IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) followed by the different governments to set laws regarding “virtual world.”

Cyber-crime is a new type of crime observed since the advent of internet society. According to the article on Wikipedia.com, cyber-crime is also known as a computer crime which refers to such a crime that includes a computer and a network. Cyber-crime is also defined as a crime committed on internet using the computer as either a tool or a targeted victim.

Cyber-crimes can be categorized into three types that is, crime against person, property, and government agencies. These can be further detailed under titles of cyber stalking, identity theft, harassment, spamming, web jacking, theft of confidential data and monetary fraud.

In Pakistan, there had been no legislation to protect its citizens against cyber crime. Thus recently, the government took a step in this regard to codify this much awaited legislation into law.

They presented what is called “Cyber-crime Bill” before a standing committee. But the draft contains some critical points that are beyond comprehension. For instance, 14 out of 20 members of the standing committee were present when the draft of the bill presented before it and it was instantly approved without any debate or objection of any sort. Moreover, all the 14 members present were MNA’s of the ruling PML (N). The situation certainly is alarming.

In section 3 of the bill mentions the term “malicious intent” without any legal definition. The term bears wide meanings and without proper definition the government can use it against its political opponents. Who would differentiate between “malicious intent” and “non-malicious intent”?

Similarly, section 5 and 7 state that anyone who get unauthorized or criminal access to “critical infrastructure” would be penalized with Rs: 50 million fine and put behind bars. Here again, the term “critical infrastructure” has not been defined and the government or any other institution can arbitrarily declare something as, “critical infrastructure”. A common man is again under a hanging sword.

Also, section 18 warns comic creators of time behind bars and 1 million fine. Ostensibly, this section is an attempt by the government to control social media and curb its critics. It doesn’t apply to print and electronic media licensed under PEMRA ordinance 2002 (XIII of 2002).

Last but not the least, PTA can block any content of a website at will and no one can challenge PTA in court.

The need of hour is to review specific clauses of the Cyber-Crime Bill. The need of the legislation should be to protect people against cyber crime and not an attempt by the government to have a control on free speech.

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