The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2015 caused uproar when it was first made public by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Technology. In a rare gesture of compromise and rationality, the government invited stakeholders from the IT industry to help make the law workable and justifiable and fair. Yet that initial display of good policy making is being marred by what can only be described as unnecessary hostility by the standing committee towards the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of Information Technology (IT) industry stakeholders. Despite of the fact that these meetings were convened for the specific purpose of improving a flawed bill; the committee chairman, retired Captain Mohammad Safdar, belligerently maintained that the bill was ready for submission in the parliament throughout the initial meetings, before being forced to hear the JAC one more time due pressure exerted by the opposition members. This stubborn – and egotistical – behaviour was matched by the classic PML-N tactic of dissuading dissent; using security officials to harass detractors. Despite the fact that the JAC was at the parliament on invitation, they were stopped from entering the premises, before a timely intervention by PPP MNA Shazia Marri saw them through. These actions are not actions of a body that genuinely considers the bill flawed, and which seriously wishes to consider the constructive criticism of relevant stakeholders to improve it. Instead these acts are of a body that views these meetings as a nuisance, and would rather implement their own views without an iota of compromise.

The government’s hesitance to radically overhaul the bill is a grave error – all commentators, NGOs and stakeholders believe that cosmetic changes will not affect the exploitative nature of the bill. The bill contains complete sections which need to be removed or elucidated in much greater detail for them to be actionable laws. For example, clauses that criminalize text messaging and emailing without the receivers contents are frivolous, that will only impede the day to day communication. The punishment for spamming is disproportionate for the act while the clause requiring internet service providers such as cafes, offices and universities to retain data hugely increase the expense of running such establishments which makes the likelihood of growth in this field limited. All these problems exist notwithstanding the well publicised – and wildly vague – clauses with protect “the glory of Islam” and “interests of the state”. The state’s initiative to pass a cybercrime bill must be appreciated, as well as their willingness to incorporate stakeholder opinion, yet the state must do this without reservation and with complete sincerity if it hopes to truly achieve positive change with its bill.