By Talal Raza
In August 2016, Pakistani parliament passed a cyber crime bill. The government regards this bill as a comprehensive legal framework to deal with new types of offences such cyber harassment, cyber stalking, electronic fraud and cyber terrorism. However, rights activists have raised concerns about the bill and believe that the way it is drafted, it could result in curbing civil liberties.
There is no doubt that a cyber crime bill was essential as there was an exponential rise in cyber crimes in Pakistan in recent times. Most of the cases are related to online women harassment. However, in the absence of legal framework it was difficult for law enforcement agencies to arrest the abusers of online spaces. Interestingly, Pakistan also has a history of laws being abused to settle personal scores. Recently, I was told that in the past, laws against terrorism had been used against political opponents to settle personal scores. It is within this context that rights activists fear that cyber crime bill might be yet another law that may be used to block content and punish dissent in online spaces.
Although this debate has started in Pakistan just now, it is be noted that many of my journalist friends thought that the issues of privacy and surveillance was a non-issue for them and they had “bigger and better issues” to talk about such as poverty, terrorism and poor governance. However, this also reflects that civil society also needs to go out and make internet privacy issue a public matter. Without awareness, the battle against internet censorship and surveillance cannot be won by the rights activists alone. “