Pakistan is badly in need of a cybercrime law that could control the rising trend of internet crimes. Parliament has regrettably dithered over this critical issue for too long as for years the proposed Bill was languishing in the halls of the Assembly without being tabled. In fact, the bill is ambiguous enough to punish civil society for trying to circumvent government controls over (illegal) blocking of content on the internet as well for active steps to avoid (illegal) surveillance. Even the bill is mum over who can and who cannot, carry out the investigation of, and surveillance against, those suspected of alleged cybercrimes. In 2014, Pakistan had the chance to join developing nations crafting laws that balanced cybercrime prevention with protections for privacy and human rights online. Now, the chances are squeezing as the government moves forward with a draft cybercrime law that ignores the civil society input. The governments that cooperate with different stakeholders to draft internet legislation are producing fairer, clearer, and more effective laws. In Brazil, following a multiyear consultative process, lawmakers in 2014 passed the Marco Civil da Internet, which has been described as the world’s first “digital bill of rights”. Article 19, the Digital Rights Foundation, and the Center for Law and Democracy were among those who criticized the bill’s lack of an accountability mechanism for government surveillance, calling it a serious threat to privacy. To date, successive govts have performed poorly on internet governance. YouTube has been banned since 2012, and Pakistan is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s annual assessment of internet freedom around the world. Last month, following a one-year consultation period, the government announced its plan to complete the Prevention of Cybercrimes Act and present it for a vote in near future. Unfortunately, a review of the latest version reveals that recommendations from Pakistani and international civil society organizations have gone unaddressed. The bill is now being finalized behind closed doors by a parliamentary committee. Now stakeholders appeared too much concerned after analyzing the latest draft. Lawmakers may be hastening the bill’s passage due to pressure to respond to terrorism and cybercrime. This attempt would certainly be misguided. If this bill is passed in in its present form, it will further undermine free expression and privacy online. The process by which a country establishes rules to govern the internet can be messy and time taking, but it is most successful when state and society undertake it together. The government must not ignore this fact otherwise, the situation may go beyond control.
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