Pakistan: An Analysis of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015

ARTICLE 19, Privacy International and Digital Rights Foundation have serious concerns about the latest draft of Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB). While the PECB contains some limited improvements, particularly in relation to the new cyberstalking offence, we are disappointed that the vast majority of our comments on a previous version of the Bill have been ignored. In this analysis, we therefore largely reiterate the concerns we had raised previously. In our view, the Bill contains a number of provisions that, if implemented, would violate the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

On April 13, 2016 the National Assembly of Pakistan’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication approved the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB). The failure to release the document publicly until May 7, two days before the convening of the Senate of Pakistan, reinforces the lack of transparency and open consultation that has marked the government’s approach concerning the legislative process behind the PECB. Throughout the process, the NA Standing Committee on IT has chosen to consult behind closed doors, keeping civil society organisations outside and avoiding public oversight. The PECB has been heavily criticised by several Pakistani and international organisations, as well as the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.1

The NA Standing Committee has also sought to prevent its own members from examining drafts of the PECB. When the PECB was first approved in September 2015 it was revealed that the approved draft had been shared with the chairman of the standing committee, but not the rest of the committee.2 Legitimate objections – that the Bill could not be approved until the draft had been read by the rest of the committee – were overruled by the standing committee chairman, on the grounds that as he had seen it, and that was sufficient for approval.

There has been a complete lack of transparency by the government of the drafting process of a piece of legislation that will have serious consequences for the rights of privacy and freedom of expression of Pakistani citizens. The situation has drawn the attention and concern of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of expression, David Kaye. The Special Rapporteur released a statement in December 2015, urging the government to ensure that the PECB respect freedom of expression, or else “if adopted, the draft legislation could result in censorship of, and self-censorship by, the media” and other segments of society.

Civil society and other stakeholders have consistently called upon the government to implement amendments that respect and protect the rights to privacy and freedom of expression of Pakistani citizens. Until now, these calls have been largely ignored. What we ask is that the Senate not only dismiss the Bill, but that the PECB be redrafted to address the problematic provisions previously identified. Whilst a cybercrime bill is necessary in the world we live in, the PECB has been flawed from its inception, claiming the importance of security over civil liberties, and must be rebuilt from the ground up, with careful and considered input from all civil society stakeholders.

In its current form, the Bill and the possibility for it to become law, remains a danger to, rather than a protector of, the rights of Pakistani citizens. We urge members of the Senate of Pakistan to carefully consider our comments to ensure that any new cybercrime legislation is fully compliant with international human rights standards.

Read the full analysis here.

[1]  “UN expert urges Pakistan to ensure protection of freedom of expression in draft Cybercrime Bill”, Statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, United Nations Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights, December 14, 2015

[2] “Draft cybercrime bill bulldozed through NA body”, Dawn, September 18, 2015