ISLAMABAD - The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2015, which has been passed by the National Assembly, suggests severe punishments for cyber crimes-related offences.

According to the 43-page bill, the first legislation to control cyber crimes, illegal hacking of data, illegal interference, electronic forgery and fraud, and cyber terrorism would be punishable with imprisonment and heavy fines after the approval from the Senate.

The bill says, if any civilian intercepts or uses malicious code virus or makes any attempt for identity theft would also be sent behind the bars. If someone intentionally gains unauthorised access to any information system or data will be punished with imprisonment of three months or fine of Rs50,000 or both.

Someone who accesses information or data or interferes with it may be imprisoned for two years and could be fined up to Rs500,000.

If someone interferes with critical infrastructure information should be imprisoned up to seven years or ten million rupees fine, or both.

The bill explains that critical infrastructure includes the infrastructure vital to the state or other organs of the Constitution such that its incapacitation disrupts or adversely affects the national security, economy, public order, supplies, services, health, safety or related matters.

If someone even threatens to access critical infrastructure information or data, or to interfere with it, or copy it would fall under cyber terrorism and offence is punishable up to 14 years imprisonment or fine up to fifty million rupees.

Creating a sense of fear or panic or insecurity in public, or advancing religious ethic or sectarian discord has been put under the cyber terrorism. Electronic forgery, electronic fraud, obtaining or supplying device for the use in any offence, unauthorised use of identity information, unauthorised issuance of SIM cards, tempering of communication equipment would be punishable with imprisonment and heavy fines. Displaying false information about any person would also be punishable up to three years imprisonment or one million rupees fine.

Superimposing a photograph of the face of any natural person over any sexually explicit image or including anyone's video or picture in sexually explicit conduct may be punished with imprisonment up to seven years or fine up to rupees ten million or both.

If someone transmits harmful, misleading, illegal or unsolicited information to any person without permission of recipient would be sentenced to jail up to three months or fine up to one million rupees or both. If someone dishonestly establishes a website or sends information with a counterfeit source intended to be believed, would fall in the category of spoofing, a crime punishable with up to three years punishment and five hundred thousand rupee fine or both.

The new law would be investigated by a designated law-enforcing agency, which would either be created or any existing would be designated. The bill grants powers to investigation officer to enter or search any specified place and secure data, without getting warrants from court, if he thinks that data could be destructed or lost, if he obtains warrants.

However, the law binds investigation officer to bring the seizure to the notice of court within twenty-four hours.

The law has been criticised by the civil society and many law makers.

Civil society terms the law in violation of basic human rights. Some believe that the law was introduced to undermine the attacks of opposition through social media on sitting ministers including State Minister for IT, Anusha Rehman, who initiated this bill. Many critics believe that the bill criminalises routine activities including sending text messages without the receiver’s consent or criticising government actions on social media with fines and long-term imprisonment.  During the national assembly standing committee meetings PPP and MQM raised many objections to the bill. The passed bill also contain a dissenting note of PPP lawmaker Shazia Marri.

Marri has raised objections to the definition of offense. She said that age must be considered while imposing penalties as internet is extremely common among children. She suggested that under unauthorised use of information clause and unauthosried copying of data, a fine is sufficient and there should not be imprisonment for this offense.

Pointing out two years imprisonment penalty under cyber stalking, she said that people should be reformed not severely punished as Pakistan penal code already addresses harassment. She suggested that the section should be deleted or imprisonment should be removed. Similarly, Marri questioned section 34 which deals with the power to manage information system.  The government claims that all the reservations of the stakeholders have been addressed and the law is launched to fight war and terror in an effective manner.

Ministry of IT, last year, submitted the bill in National assembly in Jan 2015. It was referred to the NA Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication to resolve concerns raised by the opposition members and stakeholders from the industry. However, according to insiders, a draft of the cyber crime bill was cleared by the standing committee without sharing the final version with committee members.