Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication on Tuesday unanimously passed “Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill, 2016” with amendments to water down the law by providing more safeguards and trimming the unbridled powers of investigation agencies and authority given in the original bill.
The Bill was submitted with Senate of Pakistan, which would pass it during the current week (on or before July 29). After passage from Senate the Bill will be sent back to the National Assembly, as amendments are being made to the Bill.
The Bill will become law after its passage from the Lower House of the Parliament. Children under the age of 10 years have been given immunity and the proposed legislation will not be applicable to them.
The committee met with Shahi Syed in the chair on Tuesday where IT Minister and the Committee appreciated and congratulated each others for the smooth passage of the Bill.
However, the committee Chairman criticised the National Counter-terrorism Authority (Necta) for not cooperating with the committee by not attending meetings, which is the main stakeholder in the implementation of the law.
According to the amended Bill, it shall also apply to any act committed outside Pakistan by any person if the act constitutes an offence under this ACT and affects a person, property, information system, data or device located in Pakistan.
In the amended Bill, child pornography has been dealt separately. Under this section; whoever intentionally and without lawful justification produces, offers or makes available, distributes or transmits through an information system or produces for himself or for another person or possesses material in an information system that visually depicts- a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, (b) a person appearing to be a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or (c) realistic images representing a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine which may extend to five million rupees or with both.
The amended proposed law will not be applicable provided that where the violation is committed by a licensee of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the same shall be deemed to be a violation of terms and conditions of the license and shall be treated as such under the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996.
However, any owner of the information system who is not a licensee of the Authority and violates Sub-Section (1) shall be guilty of an offence punishable, if committed for the first time, with fine which may extend to ten million rupees and upon any subsequent conviction shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine or with both.
The amended Bill has provided safeguard to data protection as, except in cyber terrorism case, investigation agency would require court permission to seize/access data.
The committee members had raised concerns on the chapter dealing with international cooperation and proposed that request from outside should come through a designated agency and should not be received through everybody.
The amended Bill has allowed a check while saying that a competent court should be approached before releasing information to another country.
Further the federal government shall be required to ask the foreign government, any foreign agency or any international agency to keep the information provided confidential or use it for specific purpose.
Further hate speech and glorification of an offence have been separated and different punishments were proposed. In the initial Bill, these offences were dealt in the same section.
The amended Bill further provides a check on the PTA powers, as it could not block a website unless it was reported to it. Meanwhile, it is giving a chance to the grieved party of filing a review against the PTA’s decision for blocking a website etc.
Amendments were also made in Section-15 of the Bill relating to “Unauthorized Issuance of SIM Cards etc”. Whoever sells or otherwise provides Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card, re-usable identification module (R-IUM) or Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC) or other module designed for authenticating users to establish connection with the network and to be used in cellular mobile, wireless phone or other digital devices such as tablets (words in bold are added).
However, the portion stating, “And other portable memory chip designed to be used in cellular mobile or wireless phone for transmitting information” has been removed.
However, the punishment for this section ie imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees or with both remain the same.
The parliamentary panel also amended the section dealing with Spamming. The first two Sub-Sections of the Bill remained the same, however, it amended the Section 3 and added Section 4.
(3) Whoever commits the offence of spamming as described in subsection (1) by transmitting harmful, fraudulent, misleading or illegal (bold words added in the Bill) or engages in direct marketing in violation of Sub-Section (2), for the first time, shall be punished with fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees and for every subsequent violation shall be (removed from the Bill) punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with fine, which may extend to one million rupees (bold words removed)or with both.
Section 4 which has been added to the Bill, states–whoever commits the offence of spamming as described in Sub-Section (1) by transmitting unsolicited information, or engages in direct marketing in violation of Sub-Section (2), for the first time shall be punished with fine up to fifty thousands rupees and for every subsequent violation shall be punished with fine not less than fifty thousands rupees that may extend upto one million rupees.
Before passing the Bill, the committee succeeded in evolving consensus among all stakeholders including the IT Ministry, government, opposition parties, investigation agency, media, civil society and NGOs.
It is to be mentioned that when the Bill was passed from the National Assembly Standing Committee on the IT headed by Cap. Mohammad Safdar (Retd), serious concerns were expressed from different quarters including opposition parties, NGOs, civil society and even by the service providers while quoting threats to Human Rights, repercussion for freedom of speech and child rights. -Business Recorder