The National Assembly passed the Fair Trial Bill 2012, and after Senate passage and the presidential assent, it will pass into law, thereby allowing law enforcing agencies the power of checking emails, SMSs, internet protocol detail records and call detail records and other electronic messages, in the War on Terror. Though the Bill was piloted by Law Minister Farooq Naek, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf considered the occasion of sufficient importance to address the House and say that the law is aimed at the enemies of humanity and the terrorists, not the ordinary citizen. That he felt the need to say so showed one of the most common fears that the new law generates, that it would be misused by the law enforcing agencies. This is a genuine fear in view of how extensively and habitually the members of the police in particular exploit their positions by misusing existing laws. Giving them an additional tool to exploit, might be asking for trouble. The Bill was passed along with 31 amendments proposed by the Opposition. The unanimity with which the Bill was passed showed that the Opposition was also on board with the passage of the bill. It is symptomatic that the Prime Minister said that the passage of the new law showed the world how Pakistan was committed to strengthen its law enforcing and intelligence agencies in the war against terrorism. Another motive for the law would be the complaint by the military that terrorists are nabbed, but let off by the courts, because the evidence against them is not admissible in court.

It is thus clear that the new law is supposed to target the militants. It is to stop terrorism that the law enforcing agencies had mobile operators shut down on Eid and Ashura. The fascination of the police with electronic means of communication is not just limited to Pakistan, and is shared by criminals worldwide, but not enough attention is being paid to crimes for gain, not out of political convictions, but also using electronic means. It should also be clear that this law is ex post facto, because American agencies have already got legal cover to read emails. Such is the nature of the Internet, that access cannot be limited by country. It means that all communications on the Net must be searched, because there is also no way of keeping anyone outside the Net when it has been opened up.

With so much communication now taking place only electronically, it was perhaps inevitable that militants would use these means, but criminals would too. If the purpose of the new law is only the War on Terror, it needs a rethink, which is possible in the stages of Senate passage and presidential assent. The law needs to be brought up to date, so that all cybercrime, not just any involving the War on Terror, is covered. At the same time, the liberties of the citizen must not be abused. There must be some means provided so that citizens can find a forum where they can complain of any abuse.