The Cybercrime Bill ignores digital freedom

Cybercrime bill can implicate as young as 12 year old.
The revised cybercrime bill is still an attack on freedom of speech and expression.

Cybercrime bill has been tabling in the National Assembly (NA) for the past few months. The initial draft was sloppy, adolescent and it was presented to save politicians from cyber trials. Since the refusal of National Assembly to pass the much-regretted cybercrime bill, the external stakeholders have been busy in pushing necessary amendments. However, the Ministry of Information Technology forcefully got the cybercrime bill 2015 approved through the NA Standing Committee on Information Technology just last week.

This is a point of concern for Internet users in Pakistan. The currently tabled cybercrime bill implicates 12 to 18-year-olds to adults, victimising millions of innocent citizens unaware of cyber wrong doings. Fighting for digital rights in Pakistan, rights group Bolo Bhi has been rigorously working towards amending the bill to effectively counter criminals and the bill should not implicate individuals who use the Internet for knowledge and entertainment.

The sad narrative is that anyone aged 12 or above can be charged for cyber crimes, it does not matter if they have committed an offence knowingly or unknowingly. Taking pictures in public and uploading on the Internet can have serious implications for individuals. If the pictures show people who have not given consent for the picture to be taken and put up on the internet, they can file a case and can send the defendant for a jail term.  Politicians are the biggest beneficiaries of this bill as their wrongdoings will be a crime to put up on the Internet for the world to see. Rehman Malik the “stalwart” of PPP was filmed boarding a PIA flight with a two hour delay, the video was put up on the social media defaming and damaging the already not so bright image of the former Minister for Interior. The bill also bars individuals from criticising government relations and matters, putting debate and freedom of speech to a complete stop. The unfortunate absence of a Data Protection Law in the country puts the loosely worded cybercrime bill as a direct threat to the civil liberties and businesses in the country.

The lawmakers are aloof from the fact that the already established law ON freedom of speech, right to expression, right to free media and other related laws cannot be overwritten in light of the new cybercrime bill.

Moreover, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority  has the sole right to block websites and maintain online security. This brings disbelief in the efforts of our government and their utter ignorance to evaluate that the digital and telecommunications are two separate species and require absolute independent authorities to find solutions to the growing digital problems that exist today.

The growing 29.1 million Internet user base in Pakistan cannot ignore the long lasting effects that this proposed cybercrime may have if approved by the National Assembly and the Senate. This bill is a direct attack on liberals who advocate freedom of speech and demand digital rights for a more independent and equal society. The revised cybercrime bill presented last week is still not up to the mark as it puts innocent citizens at risk. If this bill was presented in a developed country masses would have come out to protest and overthrow the government.

Muhammad Safdar, the lead draftspersons of the bill has overlooked the rights of the Pakistani citizen  and has forgotten that no law violating them can be passed. We can just hope that the sense will prevail and the bill will better regulate matters of the digital age rather than safeguard the interest of few political personnel.