ISLAMABAD: Parliamentarians and civil society representatives have expressed concern at the amendments proposed by the government to the cybercrime bill which, according to them, is aimed at gauging the freedom of expression.
It is the state’s responsibility to protect the right to information and freedom of expression of citizens which are being curtailed in the proposed cybercrime bill, the participants said at a roundtable on “Beyond the firewall: freedom of speech in a censored democracy” held at the Jinnah Institute here on Saturday.
The participants included PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, Ali Dayan Hassan, Tahira Abdullah, and others.
Among the irritants identified by the participants was the lack of clarity as to what constitutes an offence under the bill currently under discussion at the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology.
They noted that confusion surrounding cybercrime and cyber-terrorism meant that a relatively high punishment had been prescribed for cyber crime.
According to the rights defenders the Anti-Terrorism Act, which already includes surveillance mechanisms for electronic terrorism, is being misused.
“Laws meant to control hate speech are being used in other spheres of life,” Ali Dayan Hassan of World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council member said, citing a number of actions taken by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).
Senator Farhatullah Babar highlighted the importance of a law to curb cyber crime but in the same vein stressed the need for a balance between freedom of expression and regulations.
The participants were of the view that a distinguish between matters of national security and public interest should be made to ensure that the powers granted for surveillance and investigation are not misused.
Moreover, it was suggested that certain subsections within the law should be amended, which negatively impact the rights of citizens.
The participants noted that the proposed bill did not distinguish between telecom offences and cyber crimes, which as a consequence had increased the liability placed on businesses and service providers.
This had led to an increase in censorship on social media and other platforms as well, which are important tools for citizen awareness and collection action.
Pemra’s recent ban on movies, television shows and advertisements were all used as examples to highlight the recent increase in censorship.
With the expansion of media in Pakistan, there is a need for regulation, but not at the expense of privacy.
In the absence of data protection legislation, the participants said that the retention of data ran contrary to the right of privacy.
It was noted that it was imperative to take action on the cybercrime bill and it was essential to identify where curtailments were coming from and how citizens could approach it to safeguard freedoms guaranteed under the constitution. Others who participated in the discussion were Tahira Abdullah, Anchor Asma Sheerazi, Haroon Baloch from Bytes for All, an NGO working for freedom of expression.