At the advent of the 21st century, the world in which we are living has been completely transformed into a world of science, reason and technology. The phenomenal growths of technological gadgets have increased the pace of dissemination of any piece of information from any nook of the world. This growth story can be attributed to a number of factors including the popularity of social media/network forums such as Facebook and Twitter. However, in Pakistan’s case, one of the key factors undoubtedly has to be the freedom of expression experienced online by our nascent internet population over the last decade. These may have been excesses but generally the internet space has remained accessible without fear for the common man, the aspiring blogger, the modern critic, the religious scholar and the urban moderate. That might be about to change. In this way, the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015 is the bill that is shrouded in observable suspicions.

The bill has five chapters detailing offences like interference with critical infrastructure, cyber terrorism, electronic forgery/fraud, identity theft, sexual harassment, virus spreading, spamming, spoofing and prosecution formalities. The general scheme and content of the bill appear to be well intentioned and reflect a determined effort to cover as many offences as possible that are normally associated with the use of information and communication technology. But just as the sight of an innocent teenager wearing a suicide jacket is enough to turn a Friday prayer congregation into a potential bloodbath, there is one article that can prove to be the death knell of freedom of expression in the country. Article 31 is reproduced here.

“(1) The authority or any officer authorised by it in this behalf may direct any service provider to remove any intelligence or block access to such intelligence, if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence. (2) The federal government may prescribe rules for adoption of standards and procedure by the authority to monitor and block access and entertain complaints under this section. Until such procedures and standards are prescribed, the authority shall monitor and block intelligence in accordance with the directions issued by the federal government.”

Such broad definitions in the proposed law, the government is in fact will crush the constitutional right of the citizens enshrined in Article 4(2) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which states that “no person shall be prevented from or be hindered in doing that which is not prohibited by law” as well as the words of Article 19A (Right to Information) that “every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”

The proposed Bill clearly signifies the Constitutional violations which will definitely face constitutional challenges as soon as it is promulgated. Government should review its decision regarding the promulgation of this highly controversial proposed Act in order to safeguard and secure civil liberties of the citizens in lieu of crushing them under its desire.

MUHAMMAD YASIR KAYANI,

Kasur, April 21.