Cybercrime Bill sails thru Senate

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50 Amendments make bill citizen, state friendly: Aitzaz; Efforts to sabotage foiled: Ishaq Dar

Danish Shafique

Islamabad—The government and the opposition parties finally agreed to the contours of the much talked about Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act after hectic deliberations especially over the last two days. On Friday, the proceedings of the upper house were suspended for about one and half hour to give time to the government and the opposition to give final touches to the draft bill which the Senate finally passed unanimously with fifty amendments.
After the introduction of amendments, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act will now be sent back to the National Assembly for its consent.
Under the main amendments introduced in the bill, the convicts will have thirty days time to appeal against the sentence in a high court while Pemra licenses including TV and radio stations will not fall under the ambit of this law. The implementation of the law will be re-viewed by relevant authorities twice a year to weed out problems.
Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman said implementation of the cyber crime bill is the sole responsibility of the Interior Ministry.
She said: “The law includes 21 offences relating to activity on the Internet.”
She went on to say that the government has put in all efforts to ensure that government agencies and officials are not able to misuse the law.
The bill, which has been widely criticized by the IT industry and members of civil society for curbing human rights and giving extraordinary powers to law enforcement agencies, was first passed by the NA standing committee on Information Technology (IT) in 2015, while it was approved by the lower house of the parliament on April 13 this year.
The amended draft bill covers terrorism, electronic fraud, exaggeration of forgery crimes, hate speech, pornographic materials about children, illegal access of data (hacking), as well as interference with data and information system (DOS and DDOS attacks), specialised cyber-related electronic forgery, and electronic fraud which would be punishable offences.
The act criminalizes cyber-terrorism with punishments of up to 14 years in prison and Rs5 million in penalty. Similarly, child pornography will carry sentences of up to seven years in jail and Rs5 million, with the crimes being non-bailable offences.
The bill also aims to criminalise terrorism on the internet, or raising of funds for terrorist acts online, with sentences of up to seven years in prison.
Giving salient features of the bill, Anusha Rahman said that special courts will be set up under the act to handle cyber related crimes. She said that many safe-guards have also been incorporated in the act so that the implementing agencies could not abuse it.
No person will be arrested under the act without the orders of the courts except in the cases of cyber terrorism and child pornography, she said adding develop-ment of the country is linked with the development of information technology and utmost effort has been made to protect the people especially women and children on the internet.
Anusha Rahman said that unprecedented consultation was held on this piece of legislation in which the parliamentarians gave their valuable inputs while all other institutions of the state also remained an important part of it.
Chairman of the Standing Committee Shahi Syed said that protection of fundamental rights of the people was kept in view while drafting the bill. He said this legislation was need of the hour to confront the propaganda campaign against the country.
Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said the bill sent by the National Assembly was incomplete and there was a need to humanize it.
He appreciated the government’s positive attitude for accommodating the opposition’s 50 amendments in the bill. He said though the bill is not perfect yet effort has been made to make it state and citizen friendly.
He pointed out that terrorists are using latest technology and communication means to perpetrate their nefarious acts. Therefore, there was need for such an act. However, it was necessary to humanize it for the protection of the rights of the people. He said the judicial oversight has been further strengthened in the amended bill.
Other members with some reservations also declared the bill as the need of the hour to meet the modern challenges security challenges.
Taking the floor, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said that this bill had been deliberated in detail at the National Assembly, the Senate and the Standing Committees.
He appreciated the inputs made by the treasury and opposi-tion members to bring value addition in the bill. He said the bill will be re-passed by the National Assembly.
He said that certain elements tried to sabotage the leg-islation but they failed in their sordid designs. He said that this act is in the national interest and the democracy.

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