A senate body in Pakistan has approved the bill against cybercrime - which has been widely criticized by the country's public as a means to curb human rights and freedom of speech. The bill was okayed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on IT in 2015 and was passed by the lower house of the parliament on April 13 this year.
It will now be put up for discussion in the senate, which will be allowed to provide it with one final endorsement before it can be signed by the President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, and written into the country's law. According to Dawn.com, the salient features of the bill include:
- Up to seven years imprisonment, Rs10 million fine or both for hate speech, or trying to create disputes and spread hatred on the basis of religion or sectarianism.
- Up to three years imprisonment and Rs0.5 million fine or both for cheating others through internet.
- Up to five year imprisonment, Rs5 million fine or both for transferring or copying of sensitive basic information.
- Up to seven years imprisonment and Rs0.5 million fine or both for uploading obscene photos of children.
- Up to Rs50 thousand fine for sending messages irritating to others or for marketing purposes. If the crime is repeated, the punishment would be three months imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs1 million.
- Up to three year imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs0.5 million for creating a website for negative purposes.
- Up to one year imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs1 million for forcing an individual for immoral activity, or publishing an individual’s picture without consent, sending obscene messages or unnecessary cyber interference.
- Up to seven year imprisonment, a fine of Rs10 million or both for interfering in sensitive data information systems.
- Three month imprisonment or a Rs50 thousand fine or both for accessing unauthorized data.
- Three year imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs5 million for obtaining information about an individual’s identification, selling the information or retaining it with self.
- Up to three year imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs0.5 million for issuing a SIM card in an unauthorized manner.
- Up to three year imprisonment and fine of up to Rs1 million rupees for making changes in a wireless set or a cell phone.
- Up to three year imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs1 million for spreading misinformation about an individual.
- Up to three years imprisonment and fine of up to Rs1 million for misusing the internet.
While it can be said that the cybercrime bill awards penalties against several illegal acts such as the illegitimate usage of SIM cards and personal information, as well as child pornography, it has been widely criticized by the general public of Pakistan as restrictive and unclear. Government officials have failed to clarify the extent of "misuse of the internet" and the definition of a "website for negative purposes".
According to the committee's chairman and senator Shahi Syed, the committee invited all the stakeholders including NGOs, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the civil society and the media for discussion on the bill. He went on to say that:
We have made utmost efforts to protect common people and innocent citizens from the misuse of the law and many checks and balances have been proposed to incorporate.
The bill is scheduled for one final viewing by the senate, and if approved, will ultimately be signed by the President of Pakistan, in order to aid the government's efforts "at curbing cybercrimes [by providing] mechanisms for their investigation, prosecution, trial and international cooperation with respect of such offences."