ISLAMABAD - The National Assembly yesterday unanimously passed "The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2015", declaring electronic fraud, pornographic material about children, illegal access of data (hacking), use of malicious code viruses and other such things punishable acts.

The bill, moved by State Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, has given power to federal government to establish or designate a law enforcement agency to probe above mentioned offences under this act.

According to the bill, “All offences under the new law except from cyber terrorism and offence against modesty of a natural person and minor (child pornography) are non-cognisable, bailable and compoundable.”

The issuance of unauthorised SIM cards will be cognisable offence by the investigation agency on a written complaint by the Authority. The proposed punishment for cyber terrorism is 14 years imprisonment or Rs50 million fine or both. Punishment for offence against modesty of a natural person is seven years imprisonment or Rs5 million fine or both. In case of offence against minor (child pornography) the punishment will increase to 10 years imprisonment or Rs10 million fine or both.

The punishments for other offences, mentioned in the bill, are from three months to seven years imprisonment and fine ranging from Rs50,000 to Rs5 million.

According to the bill, the government will establish a forensic laboratory independent of investigation agency to provide expert opinion before the court or for benefit of the investigation agency.

Minister Anusha Rehma assured the house the basic rights of citizens will be taken care of. “The purpose of the bill is to ensure national security,” she said, adding that the discussion on bill was continuing for last many years.

She further said that this bill will help protect critical infrastructure existing on the cyberspace like that of the Nadra database.

According to the bill, the unauthorised use of identity information, tempering of communication equipment, interference with critical infrastructure, information system or data, making, obtaining or supplying device for use of offence will be punishable.

Proposing amendments in the bill, the MPs from different political parties viewed the legislation would curb cybercrime and contribute to national security. “It will also help enhancing investment in Information Technology, E-commerce and E-payment systems etc,” they said.

Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah said that the bill was pending for over five years. “It was pending since 2011 as political parties had objections to it,” he said, adding that there was also need to check negative effects of this important bill. PPP’s Shazia Marri, on her turn, gave credit to opposition leader for making special committee to remove reservations on the bill.

PTI’s Arif Alvi said that this bill will help reduce electronic crimes in the country. “Both sides (treasury and opposition) worked on this bill to make it fruitful,” he added.

JUI-F lawmaker Aasiya Nasir was of the view that such kind of legislation would help implement National Action Plan. MQM’s Ali Raza Abidi said there was still need of some amendments to further improve this bill.

Lawmakers including Shazia Marri, Ayesha Syed, Dr Arif Alvi and Dr Shireen Mazari proposed amendments in the bill most of which were accepted.

This bill was earlier referred to Standing Committee on IT to remove concerns of the opposition members. The bill was passed after three hours long discussion on its amendments. The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says that Pakistan has no comprehensive system to deal with growing threat of cybercrimes. The centuries old criminal justice legal framework is inadequate and ill-equipped to address the sophisticated online threats of 21st century cyber age.

“The legislation provides new investigative power hitherto unavailable such as search and seizure of digital forensic evidence using technological means, production orders for electronic evidences and other enabling powers which are necessary to investigate cyber crimes cases,” it says, adding that this bill also afford protection to citizen which has hitherto not been completely effective, exposing them to the unmitigated threats posed by cyber criminals both home and abroad.

The house also passed two other bills – the Foreign Exchange Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2014, moved by Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal; and the Foreigners (Amendment) Bill 2016, moved by Parliamentary Secretary for Interior Maryam Aurangzeb.