Govt fails to form body on electronic crime bill

ISLAMABAD, Jan 5: An important piece of legislation – the Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill 2009 – is facing neglect of the government as it has failed to move the speaker National Assembly office for timely constitution of a select committee to fine tune its clauses.

Following differences within the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology on the proposed bill, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in the first week of November suggested formulating a select committee to further discuss the bill.

However, the speaker is yet to announce the committee. According to opposition members of the standing committee, in its current form the bill was an anti-people piece of legislation, hence needed thorough scrutiny.

Since it was a government bill, the responsibility squarely lies on the treasury benches to request the speaker office for constitution of the committee so that legislation could be brought back on the agenda of the house, an official of the NA legislation branch remarked.

In the recent past, government received well deserved criticism for the lapse of a pro-women bill in the Senate after its passage from the National Assembly.

Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan presented the electronic crimes bill in the National Assembly on August 21 and the house referred it to the standing committee on information technology. The committee met for around six to seven times but failed to reach an agreed draft.

Meanwhile, Anusha Rehman of the PML-N, supported by Marvi Memon of the PML-Q, campaigned against the legislation in its present form in the National Assembly.

“It was a great success for both of us when Prime Yousuf Raza Gilani himself recognised lacunas in the bill and suggested formation of a select committee to make it an acceptable law,” Ms Rehman told Dawn.

She said it was a worst piece of legislation initially formulated through a presidential ordinance by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007 obviously to harass opponents of the regime.

The bill created a number of criminal offences involving misuse of electronic data, equipment as well as systems and use of such data and equipment in commission of other crimes.

The power to investigate and prosecute the offences under the bill was vested with Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). For sending an indecent SMS, the accused could be sent behind bars for 14 years.

When the present government came into power it continued with the same law in the form of an ordinance until it was presented before the National Assembly in August to make it an act of parliament.

“During the upcoming session of the National Assembly, I will personally request the speaker to constitute the proposed select committee for further discussion on the bill,” Ms Rehman responded to question. In simple terms, the law in current form violates basic human rights, she said.

In the bill, the concept of cyber terrorism has been made a loosely-defined term and this, in its current form, would lead to punishment of innocent people who could be picked up on allegations of terrorist intent, she said.

Pakistan Software Houses Association had also termed the ordinance “dangerously” anti-people and anti-industry than a solution to information technology-related crimes.

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