The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB), 2016 was unanimously passed by Senate on Friday after incorporating about 50 amendments of opposition, prominent of which included parliamentary and judicial oversight of the bill to control its misuse.
The leader of the opposition in the Senate and a harsh critic of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Aitzaz Ahsan, showered praise like no one else on the ruling party for bringing the bill, saying the bill has been made quite comprehensive with the incorporation of amendments.
“The parliamentary and judicial oversight are the two important amendments that have been incorporated in the bill, and it will help prevent its misuse to a great extent, but still there is a lot more to do to make it comprehensive,” he added.
In Clause 34 of the bill, a new sub-section was inserted which states that an appeal against the decision of the Authority in review will lie before the High Court within 30 days of the order of the Authority in review.
Another major amendment is that the agency designated or established under section 26 of the Act shall submit a half yearly report to both houses of the parliament for consideration by the relevant committee in-camera, in respect of its activities, without disclosing identity information.
The bill was moved by State Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, which was adopted by the house unanimously.
The Senate session remained suspended for over two hours as major opposition political party Pakistan People’s Party was reluctant to pass the bill in the current form.
However, the PPP agreed to support the bill after some 50 amendment were incorporated in the bill which, according to Aitzaz, made it much better than the original bill passed by the National Assembly.
“We can’t call it a perfect bill but it’s still far better than we’d received from National Assembly. Both law minister and Anusha Rehman were kind to open heartedly accept whatever amendment we wanted to incorporate,” he added.
Speaking in the house before passage of the bill, Senator Colonel Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi (Retd), who is parliamentary leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), said his party would abstain from the vote on the bill, as no one from his party was invited to the meeting of opposition parties before presenting the bill in the House.
However, the MQM voted for the bill after Aitzaz Ahsan tendered an unconditional apology to Mashahadi for not inviting his party to the meeting that made a detailed deliberation on the bill before bringing to the House for final its approval.
He also said that the PPP tried its level best to make the bill state and citizen friendly, for which he and Sherry Rehman had to convince PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as he was reluctant to support the bill till last minute.
Senator Sherry Rehman said that the opposition saved the bill from becoming a ‘complete black law’ by making amendments, adding that it is deeply imperfect law, which would be streamlined with the passage of time.
“The government has agreed to bring a comprehensive whistleblower bill which will be introduced in the house, and if it failed to honour its commitment, we’ll take the initiative as the bill needs to be streamlined,” she added.
The State Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman said the government took the initiative, as there existed no proper law to control the cyber crime, adding due to absence of any law, the investigating agencies were helpless in taking action against criminals.
She said all the stakeholders were taken onboard; public hearings were conducted; civil society and rights groups were consulted, to make it comprehensive.
She said that reservations of both print and electronic media have been addressed and the bill will not apply on them.
She added that special courts would be set up to listen to such cases, however, she added that except for those involve in terrorism-related and in child pornography crimes, no other person could be arrested without court’s orders.
In clause 10 sub-clause (b) the words “shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 14 years or that fine which may be extended to 50 million rupees or with both” were dropped.
In clause 10 sub-clause (c) after the words “under the law” the full-stop shall be deleted and the words “shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 14 years or that fine which may be extended to 50 million rupees or with both” were inserted.
In clause 10-A for the word “ethnic” was substituted by word “racial”. And in Clause 19, sub-clause (1), clause (c) after the words “explicit conduct” the word “or” was inserted and a new clause “(d) discloses the identity of the minor” was inserted.
In Clause 21, sub-clause 2, the word “one year” was substituted with the word “three years”. In Clause 22 sub-section (3) after the words “with fine” the words “of rupees fifty thousand which may extend up to rupees five million” were inserted. -Business Recorder