A parliamentary panel on Wednesday recommended that the government amend/revisit several clauses of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Bill, 2016, which are curbing social media, freedom of expression, and impose severe punishments. It recommended the government to make the bill more comprehensive to safeguard a common man as well.
The sub-committee of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication met with Osman Saifullah Khan in the chair to consider the proposed Bill and held a public hearing with various stakeholders including NGOs, Internet Service Provider and social media activists.
Convener of the committee stated that people should not be given a free hand but a balance should be maintained to safeguard the rights of others as well.
To make the bill more effective, it was decided to consult all stakeholders on the Bill that’s already passed by the National Assembly.
The committee discussed different sections including 10, 9, 38, 45, 29, 28, 22, 21 and 18 and asked the social media representatives to give their input with respect to their concerns on the proposed legislation.
Senator Fahatullah Baber raised several questions with respect to the proposed legislation and asked the government to specifically address them to make things clear. He asked its affects on free flow of information or freedom of expression, secondly he asked about data protection or safeguards to personal data under this law, obligations on internet service providers, threats to privacy and power of Investigation Agency versus oversight and accountability.
Osman Saifullah raised questions about definition of offences, impacts on other laws, safeguards and procedural requirements.
Discussion on Various Sections of Bill
The committee first took section 18, of the PEC, 2016, Offences against dignity of natural person. Section says:
(1) Whoever intentionally and publicly exhibits or displays or transmits any information through any information system, which he knows to be false, and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of a natural person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both:
Provided that nothing under this sub-section shall apply to anything aired by a broadcast media or distribution service licensed under the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 2002 (XIII of 2002).
(2) Any aggrieved person or his guardian, where such person is a minor, may apply to the Authority for removal, destruction of or blocking access to such information referred to in sub-section (1) and the Authority on receipt of such application, may pass such orders as deemed appropriate including an order for removal, destruction, preventing transmission of or blocking access to such information and the Authority may also direct any of its licensees to secure such information including traffic data.
Wahaj-u-Siraj CEO NayaTel raised objection on the clause while saying that government under this law wants to deal separately with Social Media and Electronic and Broadcasting media under the PEMRA ordinance, which would cap social media.
He said that this offence is alreadyThe committee also observed that this section may vanish the beauty of social media and there are chances of its abuse.
The committee also raised objections on the proposed punishment under this section which is fine and imprisonment.
Senator Mohammad Mohsin Khan Leghari said that affected citizens should also need to be protected.
Aoun Bokhari, Deputy Director FIA and Nasir Riaz Director Legal IT Ministry negated the expression of curb on social media while saying that there is no liability on service provider but deals with individuals who intentionally do something to defame others. They further said that PEMRA not only deals with organizations and institutions having licenses but also with the wide scope of social media.
Senator Shibli Faraz said that our society is illiterate and laws should be formulated for common men.
However the committee finally recommended that the clause is needed to protect and safeguard people rights but there’s a need to revisit/amend it.
The committed then took Section 22 i.e. Spamming. The section is as following:
(1) A person commits the offence of spamming, who with intent transmits harmful, fraudulent, misleading, illegal or unsolicited information to any person without permission of the recipient or who causes any information system to show any such information for wrongful gain.
(2) A person including an institution or an organization engaged in direct marketing shall provide the option to the recipient of direct marketing to unsubscribe from such marketing.
(3) Whoever commits the offence of spamming as described in subsection
(1-A) or engages in direct marketing in violation of sub-section
(2-A), for the first time, shall be punished with fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees and for every subsequent violation shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both.
The committee observed that every country has specific laws on spamming. However it should not be criminalized. The Committee said that imprisonment should be omitted and only the fine remain as penalty. The committee also recommended bringing a comparison of EU and Singapore in next meeting. The committee also observed that spam can be dealt with technical solutions like in US.
The committee also took Section 21 .i.e. Cyber stalking under consideration, which is as following:
(1) A person commits the offence of cyber stalking who, with the intent to coerce or intimidate or harass any person, uses information system, information system network, the Internet, website, electronic mail or any other similar means of communication to–
(a) follow a person or contacts or attempts to contact such person to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such person;
(b) monitor the use by a person of the Internet, electronic mail, text message or any other form of electronic communication;
(c) watch or spy upon a person in a manner that results in fear of violence or serious alarm or distress, in the mind of such person; or
(d) take a photograph or make a video of any person and displays or distributes it without his consent in a manner that harms a person.
On this point the committee recommended to make it more specific and present in the next meeting.
The committee will meet again on June 30, 2016 (Thursday) to consider the remaining points of the PEC 2016.