ICT Stakeholders Criticizes the new Electronic Crimes Bill
Uploading photos on Instagram and Facebook or sending emails or text messages to a recipient without their consent may be considered harmless online behavior, but under the new Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015, these actions and many more could land unsuspecting Internet users in jail.
Under the pretext of the national counter terrorism strategy, the government has incorporated some controversial clauses in the draft bill. Online criticism on religion, country, courts and armed forces are a few subjects which will invoke official intervention.
Article 19 of the 1973 Constitution has been set as landmark for freedom of expression. Anusha Rehman, the minister of state for IT, insists that what they have done after extensive deliberations is the need of the hour. She said some people might criticize them however what they have ensured was the draft was in keeping with Pakistani values and teachings of Islam.
Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) Convener Wahajus Siraj said:
The bill criminalizes all such activities. Nowhere in the world is spam a criminal offence, but it is about to become one in Pakistan.
The new bill would impact Internet users, the IT industry, print and electronic media, academia, researchers, the legal community and private citizens, particularly the youth of Pakistan.
Some of the glaring aspects of the bill that would affect civil liberties:
- Political criticism and political expression in the form of analysis, commentary, blogs, cartoons, caricatures and memes has been criminalized under Sections 17 and 18 of the new bill.
- Disseminating obscene or immoral messages on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks has been made an offence under Section 20 without defining ‘obscenity’ or ‘immorality’, thus giving sweeping powers to investigating agencies to implicate anyone on these charges.
- Section 21 says that sending an email or message without the recipient’s permission will become an offence.
- Section 31 will give the government unfettered powers to block access or remove speech not only on the Internet, but which is transmitted through any device, limiting the media’s freedom and citizens’ right to expression.
- Section 26 – the definition of service providers – traditionally limited to ISPs and telecom companies. According to the speakers, the definition has now been expanded to include any place that offers access to Internet to the public such as restaurants, malls, hotels, offices, airports bus stations.
Faisal S. Khan, the CEOof the IT Company OVEXTECH said:
The new law will throw Pakistan into the dark ages