The National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication on recently approved the ‘The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2015’, a bill that has been widely criticised for being ’draconian’. The bill hasn’t been tabled before the National Assembly yet. The committee that approved the controversial bill was convened under the Chairmanship of MNA Muhammad Safdar, and was attended by officials from the ministry of IT and other members of the IT committee. Interestingly, the bill applies on every citizen of Pakistan, wherever he may be, and also to every other person for the time being in Pakistan. This means that the bill is applicable to Pakistani’s living in foreign countries.
Some of the clauses of the bill approved by the standing committee include; 1.Political criticism and political expression in the form of analysis, commentary, blogs, cartoons, caricatures and memes will be criminalized. 2. ‘Obscene’ or ‘immoral’ messages on Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms, will be made offenses without defining obscenity or immorality. 3. Posting of photographs of any person on Facebook or Integra without their permission will be an offence. 4. Government/PTA will be able to block access or remove speech not only on the internet but transmitted through any device. The bill in its current form is bound to have a serious impact on the internet users in Pakistan, the Information and communications technology industry, media and the ordinary citizens. Despite severe reservations of the civil society, information technology professionals and academics the bill was passed by the standing committee. It is unfathomable how a bill could be passed that wants to punish ‘obscene’ and ‘immoral’ messages but does not define what the terms mean. The bill raises serious questions regarding the acumen of those who prepared the bill. The bill makes the tenure of former President General (retd) Pervez Musharaf looks good when the media was independent.