NA passes Cyber Crime Bill in Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has adopted a much-criticized cyber security law that grants sweeping powers to regulators to block private information they deem illegal. The Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill 2015 was passed in the national assembly with a majority vote on Thursday.

“The overly broad language used in the bill ensures that innocent and ignorant Pakistani citizens, unaware of the ramifications of what the bill entails, can be ensnared and find themselves subject to very harsh penalties,” said Nighat Daad, founder of the Digital Rights Foundation.

Daad said the bill allowed the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority “unlimited powers” to decide what was illegal.

The law envisages 14-year imprisonment and a Rs 5 million fine for cyber terrorism, seven-year imprisonment each for campaigning against innocent people on the internet, spreading hate material on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and sect, or taking part in child pornography.

The law provides for up to seven years in prison for “recruiting, funding and planning of terrorism” online.

Under the law, terrorism, electronic fraud, exaggeration of forgery, crimes, hate speeches, pornographic materials about children, hacking as well as interference with data and information system, specialised cyber-related electronic forgery and electronic fraud etc would be punishable acts.

The Senate had already approved the Cyber Crime Bill with 50 amendments on July 29 2016. Minister of State of Information Technology and Telecommunication Anusha Rehman had presented the bill earlier this year.

The bill awaits signatures by President Mamnoon Hussain after which it will become a law. A special court will be formed for investigation into cyber crimes in consultation with the high court.

Government officials say internet restrictions under the new law are needed to ensure security against growing threats, such as terrorism.

But the law has alarmed human rights and pro-democracy activists worried that its vague language could lead to curtailment of free speech and unfair prosecutions.

More than 30 million of Pakistan’s 190 million people use the internet, mainly on mobile telephones, according to digital rights for organization Bytes All.

“There have been no provisions set in place to protect sensitive data of Pakistani users. The state cannot police people’s lives in this manner.”

The opposition strongly opposed it and said that the minor age of 10 years should not be included in offence of this legislation

The law also carries a penalty of three years for “spoofing”.

“Whoever with dishonest intention establishes a website or sends any information with a counterfeit source intended to be believed by the recipient or visitor of the website, to be an authentic source commits spoofing,” the law says.

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