Yesterday, the National Assembly passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, commonly known as the Cybercrime Bill. The first draft of this bill was submitted to the National Assembly 15 months ago.

Since then overwhelming criticism from opposition parties, the IT sector and civil society members has meant that the government had to forcibly get it cleared by the Standing Committee on Information Technology, without any stakeholders on board.

With the bill now only a Senate’s approval away from becoming law, it’s important to understand what this means for many of us.

For starters, the transparency-phobia of the government in general, and the IT ministry in particular, means that the bill’s current form is still anyone’s guess. But common sense dictates that bulldozing the draft through the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on IT means repudiation of the concerns raised over the January 2015 draft, which run a wide gamut from privacy concerns to blatant human rights abuse.

The Protection of Pakistan Act and the Fair Trial Act 2013 already allow the government to use the pretext of terrorism and state security to monitor whoever they might want to. The Cybercrime Bill ups the ante on it by not only widening the surveillance net, but also legalising barefaced censorship.

Article 31 of the bill reads: “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.”

In this paragraph alone we have ambiguous terms like ‘glory of Islam’, ‘friendly relations with foreign states’, ‘decency’, ‘morality’, etc.

Does, for example, calling for religious reform impact the glory of Islam?

Would criticising Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent human rights record be against the interest of Pakistan’s friendly relations with them?

Is there a code of conduct that properly defines abstract terms like decency or morality in cyberspace?

Furthermore, the bill also has an imprecise definition of cyber-terrorism. According to the original draft a cyber-terrorist is anyone commits, or threatens to commit, any of the Sections 5 and 7 offences where:

"(a) The use or threat is designed to coerce, intimidate, overawe or create a sense of fear, panic or insecurity in the Government or the public or a section of the public or community or sect or create a sense of fear or insecurity in society; or

(b) The use or threat is made for the purpose or motive of advancing a religious, ethnic or sectarian cause."

Unadulterated implementation of this clause should not only outlaw the web presence of every single one of the country’s religious organisations, it should also criminalise Pakistan’s own Constitution as terrorism – for it, uninhibitedly, bullies an Islamic sect into excommunication and quite clearly vies to ‘advance’ the Muslim cause over religious minorities.

Maybe the National Assembly’s official website would be taken down for uploading ‘cyber-terrorism’ in the shape of the Pakistani Constitution’s document.

Also, for a government and establishment that is brimming over with multi-pronged ‘insecurity’ and is ‘overawed’ by the mere mention of accountability, we can all become cyber-terrorists by asking questions about, for instance, the recently initiated Operation Zarb-e-Ahan, the missing persons in Balochistan or the many corruption scandals.

Furthermore, every secular, liberal thinker or activist would become a criminal overnight. It wouldn’t be too shocking if advocating women or children’s rights – like the Women’s Protection Act or the bill designed to outlaw child marriages – is deemed against the ‘glory of Islam’. After all, we have the Council of Islamic Ideology, as the official advisory body to decide what is and isn’t Islamic.

Not to mention any talks of positive relations with India would be slashed down as being simultaneously against ‘national’ and ‘security’ interests, especially when we have RAW spies popping up in Balochistan.

On Tuesday Army Chief Raheel Sharif said that India is conspiring to derail the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in Balochistan. This means criticism of any policies involving India, CPEC and Balochistan could be criminalised in the very near future.

None of this, of course, is to deny the pertinence of a cybercrime law in Pakistan. We’ve been dillydallying over one since the Prevention of Electronic Crime Ordinance (PECO) 2007 was presented to the National Assembly almost a decade ago.

The only existing law for cybercrimes is the Electronic Transaction Ordinance 2002, which has long been outdated and does little to address new challenges being created in the cyberspace at an exponential rate.

Last year the National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C) received over 2,100 complaints as per FIA statistics, but little action could be taken owing to the fact that Pakistan did not have a law pertaining to cybercrime. This in itself bears testimony to Pakistan’s cyber-preparedness, or lack thereof.

Pakistan is, and has been, in a state of war for a decade and a half, and jihadists are indeed using cyberspace to further their agenda.

Even so, while there’s an obvious – and urgent – need for legislation vis-à-vis cyber-terrorism and cybercrime, its necessity shouldn’t be used as a pretext to override universal human rights, and those guaranteed by the Constitution.

What we need instead is precise legislation that properly defines cyber-terrorism and sifts hate speech from the infinite pool of freedom of expression.

What we have right now is a draconian hotchpotch of cyber-terrorism, cyber-security and cybercrime all rolled into a single bill. If it’s passed in its existing form, we’d all end up being cyber-terrorists in one way or the other.