The public hearing today in regards to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 ended on a sombre note. Initially, overnight, the list of 7 people invited for this hearing was reduced to only 5. Since the print and electronic media were not granted access to this ‘public hearing’ real-time updates’ were not being received on social media. PASHA’s President Jehan Ara shared a status on Facebook highlighting that Internet activists & Telecom companies have voiced their reservations over this draft.
The meeting was conducted under the supervision of Captain (Retired) Muhammad Safdar the Chairman of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. After hearing the deliberations of the members of civil society, telecom industry and other lawmakers, it was concluded by Captain (Retired) Muhammad Safdar that the bill would not be put forward for final approval. The State Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication ,Ms Anusha Rehman put forth her views that the committee had taken considerations into view of the members of civil society in regards to the bill and debated the issue with them. These comments were rejected outright by all significant stakeholders including members of the civil society. The State Minister then went as far to suggest the inclusion of religious scholars to deliberate over the CyberCrime bill which was vociferously rejected by the committee members.
While talking to TechJuice, Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation raised some pertinent issues with regard to privacy and mass surveillance in the public hearing. She said that privacy had not been mentioned in any particular detail, though it is an important subject that needs safeguards, protection in the Cyber Crime Bill. Nighat Dad also spoke in length about her reservations about a lack of Data Protection Act in Pakistan and what it’s implications are for the end user. She also stated that there is a lack of discussion on the safeguards given to the privacy of citizens, and the lack of consent of such, especially if data will be shared with international security agencies.
One of the issues discussed in Digital Youth Summit Cyber Crime panel discussion was forcing the internet service providers to retain all browsing data for up to three years. It was argued that such a law can result in burdening the service providers with operational costs when the larger internet service providers were already storing information on their servers. Retention of browsing data begs the question; that it can be utilized by the State to track the geolocation data, blog posts, political inclinations of an average citizen. Collection of bulk metadata by the internet service providers can raise significant privacy concerns and is a worrying development in the absence of any privacy laws.
Bolo Bhi’s Director, Farieha Aziz went on to state that the CyberCrime Bill 2015, in its current iteration will hamper foreign investment in the IT sector, affecting young professionals and economic development of the country. PASHA President Jehan Ara mentioned that the current draft will stifle research & innovation among information technology students and prospective entrepreneurs.
Hence, it was decided that the passing of the Prevention Of CyberCrime Bill 2015 will be postponed for the foreseeable future and re-examined for further consideration.