Pakistan approves controversial cyber crime bill
Thu 14 Apr 2016
Today, the National Assembly of Pakistan approved the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB). The law, which has been criticized by human rights groups, legal watchdogs and industry experts, must still be approved by the Senate before it is signed into law.
While ostensibly created to control cybercrimes including cyber terrorism, fraud, and identity theft, the PECB would criminalize activities such as sending text messages without the receiver’s consent, or criticizing the government, religion, country, or armed forces on social media. Officials can monitor any citizen’s internet activity without judicial review. It also gives the federal government the right to establish or designate a law enforcement agency to investigate offenses under the PECB.
Critics of the bill say that because it has been drafted and amended by politicians without comprehensive technological knowledge, the language of the bill is too vague, leaving it open to abusive interpretation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, compares the PECB to the much-criticized Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in the United States. They say that the bill’s definition of ‘unauthorised access’ includes language that could easily be interpreted as including violations of terms of service, and that the definition of an ‘information system’ is so broad that it might mean anything at all. They argue that the PECB is written to allow attacks on free expression, warrants without protection, censorship without oversight, and indefinite surveillance. It also allows the Pakistani government to forward any and all information gathered under the bill to any foreign or international agency, if it considers that the information ‘might assist’ the other entity.
Last April, a joint statement from organizations including Human Rights Watch, Digital Rights Foundation, and Privacy International was published and distributed to members of the Pakistani parliament expressing their concerns over the PECB. Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia, said, “The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act bill neither protects the public from legitimate online security concerns nor respects fundamental human rights. In its present form, Pakistan’s cybercrime prevention bill will instead institutionalize unacceptable violations of basic rights with a thin veneer of legality.” In the statement, the groups urged the parliament to reject the PECB as written.