Malik M Ashraf
WHEREAS scientific and technological advancements have brought myriad of benefits to the humanity, they unfortunately also have a down side which is equally painful and tormenting for vulnerable sections of societies around the world. Internet which has been instrumental to bringing the world together, opened up infinite vistas of knowledge, given boost to the commerce and industry, expanded avenues of socialization and solved logistic problems to a great extent, has also provided the criminal elements with an effective tool to exploit its outreach and scope to advance their criminal activities. Cyber crimes have become a great nuisance all over the world and the governments have been forced to introduce legislations and put in place administrative measures to prevent cyber crimes that are having devastating impact on the social lives of the people and the overall well-being of the societies.
The nature and extent of these crimes is such that it is very difficult to check the perpetrators of the cyber crimes in their tracks and bring them to the book through normal channels of dispensing justice and ,therefore, the governments perforce have to adopt special legislative and judicial measures to deal with crimes made possible by the new communication dynamics. The governments all over the world are not only engaged in tackling the cyber crimes within their own territories and jurisdictions but are also cooperating with the other countries in dealing with this festering phenomenon, as some of the offences committed also have extra-territorial dimensions and global repercussions.
The usual crimes committed through internet and courtesy the social media are, hacking of personal data and websites, blackmail of women and children, promoting pornography, promoting fissiparous tendencies, fanning sectarianism and terrorism and spreading false information to create discord and panic within the society. In the Pakistani context, internet has been extensively used by the terrorist entities for propaganda and misleading the masses. It was in the backdrop of these developments that the government decided to bring in an effective legislation to prevent cyber crimes and to award deterrent punishments to those who relish the prospect of inflicting misery on others and the society.
The National Assembly has unanimously adopted ‘The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2015’ which will now be presented in the Senate for approval to become law. The proposed legislation purports not only to put in place an effective mechanism to prevent cyber crimes but also proposes adequate punishments for different crimes depending on their severity. It particularly focuses on illegal hacking of data, illegal interference, electronic forgery and fraud, identity crime, special protection of women and cyber terrorism. Issuance of unauthorized SIMs and providing gadgets used for cyber crimes have also been made cognizable offences..
In view of the special nature of the cyber crimes, the bill empowers the investigation officer to enter or search any specified place and secure data, with getting prior permission of the court or warrants, if he thinks that data could be destroyed or lost, if he tries to obtain warrants for search. However the law binds him to bring the seizure to the notice of the court within twenty-four hours. The new legislation also provides the investigation officer with hitherto unavailable powers such as seizure of digital forensic evidence using technological means, production orders for electronic evidences and other enabling powers which are necessary to investigate the cyber crimes.
To assist the investigations, the bill also proposes the establishment of a forensic laboratory independent of the investigation agency to provide expert opinion before the court or for the benefit of the investigation agency. And very rightly the bill also authorizes the federal government to cooperate with any foreign government, networks, any foreign agency or any international organization or agency for the purposes of investigations or proceedings concerning offences related to information systems, electronic communication or data or for the collection of evidence in electronic form of an offence or obtaining expeditious preservation and disclosure of date by means of an information system or real-time collection of traffic data associated with specified communications or interception of data under this Act.
Nevertheless, the proposed preventive measures and punishments are being criticized by the human rights organizations and even some media circles, particularly excessive powers given to the investigating officer and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block access to any content it deems unsuitable. It is also contended that the bill will shut down legitimate dissent and clamp down on individual rights. I think the logic given by the human rights entities looks only at one side of the picture. They are worried about the rights of the perpetrators of the crimes and not about those who have to suffer horrible consequences and whose rights are being trampled by these unscrupulous elements. Freedoms and human rights are not without corresponding responsibilities. They are also subject to their positive contribution to the well-being of the society. And nobody has the right to cross the Rubicon.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.