The National Assembly (NA) on Wednesday approved the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016, which proposed 14-year imprisonment or Rs50 million fine or both for those linked to terrorism through the Internet or mobile.
Penalty of one-year imprisonment and fine worth Rs100 million would be imposed in case someone supports banned outfits and hate speech. The Bill stated that access to data of sensitive installations without permission would result in five years of imprisonment or fine worth Rs5 million.
Hacking, counterfeiting e-mail or any account and unauthorised use of SIM cards would result in three years of imprisonment or fine worth Rs0.5 million. Interference in information statistics would result in two years of imprisonment and fine worth Rs0.5 million. The government has announced establishment of computer emergency response teams to counter any cyber attack on a government information system.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) protested for not including some of their amendments to the bill.
Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman Khan presented the bill with clause-by-clause reading along with several amendments. The Senate must approve the bill before it is signed into law. The draconian bill, which has been criticised by the IT industry and civil society for curbing human rights and giving overreaching powers to law enforcement agencies, was submitted to the NA for voting in Jan 2015 by the Ministry of IT. It was referred to the NA Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication to address concerns raised by the opposition members and stakeholders from the industry.
The standing committee cleared the draft cyber crime bill in September and then it was forwarded to the NA for final approval, without showing to the members a copy of the bill.
According to the critics, the proposed bill criminalises activities such as sending text messages without the receiver’s consent or criticising the government actions on social media with fine and long-term imprisonment. Industry representatives have argued that the bill would harm business as well. Online criticism of religion, the state, its courts and the armed forces could invoke official intervention under the bill.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016 has extended special protection to women. Whoever, with a malicious intent, knowingly and publicly, exhibits, displays or transmits any electronic communication that harms the reputation of a woman, causes sexual harassment to a woman, superimposes a photograph of a woman over sexually explicit images or distorts the face of a woman, will face the consequences.Political criticism and political expression in the form of analysis, commentary, blog, cartoon, caricature and meme has been criminalised. ‘Obscene’ or ‘immoral’ messages on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms have been made offences without defining obscenity or immorality, thus giving sweeping powers to investigating agencies to implicate anyone on these charges.
According to the bill, currently Pakistan has no law to comprehensively deal with the growing threat of cyber crime. The centuries old criminal justice legal framework was inadequate and ill equipped to address the sophisticated online threats of the 21st century cyber age. The introduction of this legislation would effectively prevent cyber crimes and contribute to national security. Both the opposition and the treasury benches termed the passage of the bill a great achievement.
The House also passed the Foreign Exchange Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and the Foreigners (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
The parliamentary secretary for finance presented the Second Quarterly Report for the year 2015-16 of the Central Board of Directors of the State Bank of Pakistan on the state of the Pakistani economy.
Parliamentary Secretary for Industries and Production Rao Ajmal moved a calling attention notice in the National Assembly and said that Rs26 billion corruption had been detected at the Pakistan Steel Mills. Action against corruption is National Accountability Bureau’s discretion and his department can do nothing about corruption, he said.
Ajmal said the Pakistan Steel Mills had been closed for eight months. The Sindh government proposed buying the corporation, but there was no progress on this issue yet. He said that 13,000 extra workers were a burden on the Pakistan Steel Mills.