A major opposition group has vowed to block the proposed controversial Pakistan Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) in the Senate, where the combined strength of opposition parties exceeds the number of treasury members. The cybercrime bill has garnered much attention since it was proposed, with activists fighting for digital rights in Pakistan, creating awareness for why the bill is undemocratic and crushing our freedom of expression.

Senator Sherry Rehman has stated that the PPP will not allow the PECB to be passed through Senate as it contains some very dangerous clauses that have the potential to be grossly misused. She noted that some sections of the bill provided blanket powers to regulatory and law enforcement authorities not just to curtail freedom of speech, but also to access private data of the individual and the people they are in contact with, as well as to confiscate private properties. Essentially what this bill entailed was the power given to the authorities to lock the offender behind bars for over three months over a single ‘malicious’ text message, and this is the extent of power the civil society is not prepared to grant. The bill would allow law enforcement agencies to have sweeping powers to arrest anyone by easily bypassing court permission or warrant. With such stipulations that go against all protections for privacy, individual freedom and rights to due process, the way that the bill was fast-tracked through parliament is appalling. It was high time that legislators started doing their job. At the time that the bill was being discussed on the parliament floors, experts from the IT field who were consulted felt that their recommendations had been disregarded by the parliamentary committee in-charge of the bill.

What is becoming clear is that good legislation is not the forte of the PML-N. The Cybercrime bill should have never made it to the floor, its terms are so draconian. The PPP, though seen as a fading and failing party, is the only one who has made attempts towards any progressive laws. On Monday, the Senate passed four bills including anti-honour killings and anti-rape laws all moved by a PPP senator.

The “desperate times call for desperate measures” argument for national security needs to be put away. There is a fine line between privacy and security but the state and its myopic apparatus is giving the people too little and asking for too much. Privacy is the right of every person and it is surprising to see Pakistanis give up their rights so easily. The support for laws like the Cybercrime bill comes from a lack of awareness about what the law actually means for freedom and criminal prosecution.