The National Assembly has passed the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015 (generally referred to as cyber crimes bill) after its approval from Senate. The approved version of the bill contains 50 amendments and will be signed into law by the President of Pakistan anytime soon.
Much has been written about the bill, and most of the commentators have objected to it citing ambiguity and lack of clarity in many clauses. However, there are indeed positive aspects of the bill as well, which we tend to ignore. While this post should not be considered as a defense of the new law, so, highlighting certain positive elements will help us understand the other side of the story.
1. Prevention of the Electronic Frauds
With growing internet penetration, cyber-criminals have made their way into cyberspace. Online frauds have caused the loss of billions to people worldwide and Pakistan is no exception. Not long ago, FIA had arrested a gang from Lahore, which was involved in a 2 billion rupees online fraud that affected over 5000 people. With Cyber Crimes Bill in place, such fraudulent activities will be a punishable crime, and internet users will have legal security. If any person is found involved in such online fraud, he’ll face a 2-year term in jail and a fine of up to 10 million rupees.
2. Security from Harassment and Identity Theft
The bill will surely protect the masses from online harassment and identity theft. According to the law, anyone who obtains sells, possesses, or transmits any other person’s identity information without authorization will face a three years term in jail and a fine of up to 5 million rupees. Similarly, the bill is aimed at discouraging cyber-stalking and harassment.
We have observed many cases where people misuse information and pictures of others and then blackmail them. Females are particularly more vulnerable to this blackmailing as some dirty minds get access to family photographs and then start making taking advantage. As per this law, such blackmailers will be sent behind the bar if they do this from now on.
3. Shield against Child Pornography
The bill has certain clauses and sub-clauses that clearly define and discourage pornography. Probably the best thing in the bill is a clear definition of child pornography and its declaration as an offense. Child porn has been made punishable by seven-year imprisonment or 0.5 million rupees fine or both. Moreover, if the person repeats the crime or has been found guilty in the past, his term in jail will be extended for up to 10 years.
4. A Promise of Cyber Security
In addition to electronic forgery and fraud, use of viruses, and identity theft; the cyber crimes bill declares war against cyber terrorism. This means protecting the critical information technology infrastructure. Also, it suggests punishment for those who write or transmit malicious code, intercept or try to hack critical personal/business information without authorization.
IT professionals can understand the need and importance of these clauses. Data theft can not only cause severe financial and infrastructure loss but also makes your reputation vulnerable. Any business with stolen data can lose the trust of the market and customers; we have seen companies getting out of the business following data breaches.
5. Discouragement of Propaganda Profiles
Youth’s political and social activism is encouraging development in Pakistan; however, the same has had its own grey areas.
One such issue is fake profiles and parody accounts where people use a person’s identity information and images to represent that person and start posting malicious updates/tweets and explicit images that may harm his/her reputation. This was equivalent to the cyber character assassination of celebrities and masses. Even the Prime Minister’s daughter is not safe from this and recently raised her voice against her fake profiles.
In such cases, the bill suggests imprisonment of up to 5 years or five million rupee fine or both. Similarly, the bill goes against those who post pornographic and sexually explicit images of a natural person or intimidate someone with a sexual act or any explicit content. In simple words, this will discourage the creation of profiles and pages for any kind of propaganda and character assassination of people.
6. Riddance From Irritating Marketing Messages
The bill addresses a range of irritating issues that modern customers are facing today. Spamming, spoofing and identity crimes are just a few to mention, which have been made punishable crimes with fines and imprisonment.
Telecom users in Pakistan are well-aware of the marketing tactics their service providers use. The non-stop SMS campaigns by telcos and third-party marketers (that are granted unwanted data access) are a permanent source of a headache. With a specified anti-spam law in place, we hope to see some discipline in marketing and online advertisement campaigns.
Though we can debate the term spam and add further filters to avoid any curb on healthy marketing practices, the existing clauses will refine email marketing, SMS campaigns, and other electronic communications.
7. Discouragement of Religious Hatred
The Muslim world in general and Pakistan, in particular, has been facing the curse of sectarianism. Religious and sectarian hatred has led us to an extremist mindset that is playing havoc with the country’s peace and stability. One of the best things about the cyber crimes bill is that it has declared religious or sectarian propaganda a punishable crime.
It simply means that people won’t be able to glorify crimes committed in the name of ethnicity, sect, or religion. Moreover, one will not be allowed to criticize or mock other people’s faith through the web. This (if properly done) can lead to peace and harmony while saving us from what’s going on in Syria. In other words, this is a milestone development to change the general mindset of social fiber that will have far-reaching effects.
The purpose of this article was to highlight the importance and vitality of this piece of legislation. Though there is a need for further refinement and clarity in certain clauses of the legislation, one should not ignore the advantages and benefits it promises. It is hoped that the law will be implemented in letter and spirit and not misused to curb the freedom of speech that our constitution promises.