It has been a year and half since the enactment of the highly controversial Cyber Crime Bill under the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016. Where the act was initiated under the pretext of infiltrating terrorism and countering cybercrime, the superfluity of the language and ubiquitous terminology grants unchecked discretionary powers to PTA and PEMRA, and law enforcement authorities that have been used under the ambit of curbing dissent or questioning the powers that be.

It comes as no surprise that the federal government has been unable to establish a forensic laboratory or a court headed by judges trained in cyber offences, the empirical pieces needed to endorse a just criminal proceeding. Additionally, the government has also completely failed to make any effort towards international cooperation under this law to combat cybercrimes.

As with many superfluous Bills that pass through as legislation without concrete definitions, mandates or methodological basis the Cybercrime Bill has turned into a draconian gag order that is conveniently used to infringe on the right to free speech, free media, right to expression, the right to not incriminate oneself, all under the gaping unsubstantiated trope of blasphemy/terrorism/ threat to national security.

Where the Act has provided laughably lenient punishments to some of very serious cyber offences like hacking and spamming, societal hazards like hate speech, interfaith bigotry, sectarian and racial slurs not only remain non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable they are also categorically re-construed as blasphemy.

The Bill desperately requires mechanisms to check its parameters ie unauthorised access, data protection, transmission or interference with critical infrastructure, however the government has not yet designated any infrastructure, information system or asset/facility that can monitor this all-pervasive regulation. Where severe and immediate punishment is required, as in the cases of cyber bullying or child pornography, the impetus and methodology of the Bill is severely lacking.

Where our law enforcement agencies are bogged down by a convoluted political nexus, and ineptitude with regards to technological advancement, an inadequate Bill that impairs a just investigative process rather than substantiating it, one that can be distorted to regulate freedoms of expression both in the physical and virtual world, such a law is a dangerous weapon against the masses. The Act needs to be used judiciously, independent of state and prerogatives and religious disambiguation without encroaching fundamental rights of citizens.

Where the FIA is right to question the discrepancies in the Bill, we should be wary of the government further weaponising this law without restrictive measures that can inhibit its misuse in coercion, violation, censorship and oppression of the inalienable rights of citizens.