Cybercrime Bill could give PTA unprecedented power to govern the Internet

By Maryam Dodhy on
July 1, 2016
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The government’s new cybercrime bill could give Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) the power to become a regulating body of the Internet in Pakistan. This means that they would be able to remove, block or manage all content on the Internet.

The Cybercrime Bill has been a subject of much controversy since it first surfaced. A year followed with people, particularly influentials, voicing their concern about how the Bill has been designed to snatch our freedom of speech. However, all those efforts went in vain when the Cybercrime Bill was approved by the National Assembly in April, 2016. It is now subject to approval by the Senate, after which it can formally become part of the law.

During a recent subcommittee meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology on Wednesday, senators and stakeholders discussed the section 34 of the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015, which deals with the “Power to manage online information etc”. Under the section 34, the PTA is being given the “power to manage information and issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any information through any information system”.

For nearly a decade now, the PTA has been blocking website containing pornographic, blasphemous or otherwise questionable material. They very famously blocked YouTube on grounds of blasphemy and some small stints including Facebook and Twitter. However, despite playing that role PTA was never empowered to be the lone regulating body of the Internet in Pakistan. The Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organisation) Act 1996, under which the PTA was formed, did not expressly empower the authority to regulate, manage or block Internet content. That used to be the job of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Evaluation of Websites. Until now.

The Senate subcommittee did not seem to have any issue with empowering the PTA to censor the web. The stakeholders involved did express a concern that the change should come by amending the PTA act but the Ministry of Information Technology seemed to be adamant on the fact that there is no harm in giving PTA the authority by the new cybercrime bill i.e. PECB.

The Senate still hasn’t given the final stamp of approval to the bill as several sections are still subject to discussion.

Source – Dawn

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