Cybercrime Bill Handed Over to New (and Inexperienced) Senate Committee

While we know that National Assembly has passed the controversial Cybercrime bill but before it can take effect, it has to be approved in the Senate as well.

The cybercrime bill has come under a fiery public debate, with many pointing to certain clauses that can be abused by anyone.

Now the bill has been handed over to a subcommittee on the Senate’s Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications.

This subcommittee will be conducting a public hearing, and hold consultations with journalists and other important stakeholders to ‘improve’ the bill.

The New Members of the Committee

The Senate Committee is headed by Shahi Syed, who has formed a subcommittee consisting of Senators Osman Saifullah Khan, Ghous Mohammad Khan Niazi and Syed Shibli Faraz. They will be considering both the government bill as well as a similar private member’s bill, that was earlier introduced by Senator Karim Khawaja.

With this new development, its clear that the new members are not qualified to work on anything related to the IT sector.

Amazingly, the Committee Chairman (from ANP) is asking for the recommendations of invited technology professionals, yet he’s still hesitant when it comes to selecting any of them for the committee.

Committee is as Clueless as Anything

Most of the committee meeting discussions are focused commercial lobbies and the government’s interests. The rights of individuals are rarely discussed.

Although most senators have admitted that they don’t have the technical qualification to hold an intelligent discussion on the bill without the input from experts and stakeholders, the civil society and industry representatives who are usually invited get very little chance to speak.

Former interior minister Rehman Malik, in one of the meetings, differentiated ‘cybercrime’ from ‘cyber-security’. He  underlined the need for a comprehensive data protection law before the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2016 was passed.

“First of all, you must define the rights of each stakeholder. Until you do that, how can you trace violations? Who is the custodian of the data that is being generated in Pakistan?” – Senator Rehman Malik (PPP)

He drew attention to the privilege of private conversations and said that the privacy of the majority should not be affected by this bill. He questioned the competence of IT Ministry to enforce the bill and deal with international hackers.

Joining in the discussion, Senator Farhatullah Babar (PPP) said,

“No one is against regulation [of cyberspace], but there are several different concerns involved in this issue.”

The IT minister Anusha Rehman (PML-N) informed that the government was already treating ‘cybercrime’ different from ‘cyber-security’.

“It is not the mandate of the IT ministry to draw up a data protection law. If the Senate committee wants one to be drafted, you will have to ask the law ministry.” – Anusha Rehman, Minister of IT

She also claimed that journalists and the content on mainstream print and electronic media outlets were out of the scope of this bill and they are only to be regulated by PEMRA.

She was unmoved by the criticism of the cybercrime bill and called it a media trial. She even went on to claim that the critiques of the law had vested interests.

It is yet to be seen that how will this new committee handle this important yet sensitive matter that will shape the future policy on Pakistan’s cyber security.