A Senate panel on Tuesday passed the infamous Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2016 with certain amendments, hoping to appease members of the civil society who objected to some of the draconian laws suggested. The bill aims at curbing cybercrimes and also provides means for their investigation and prosecution. It has come under severe criticism because the bill could not strive for a balance between freedom of expression and regulations. The protection of people’s privacy has been questioned and a key amendment in the bill specifies that the data of the Internet Services Providers (ISPs) will not be obtained without permission of the court, which will be established on the directives of high courts.

Furthermore, no investigation agency or person is allowed to start investigating a cybercrime without court orders. Another amendment aims to address issues of confidential data being shared, by suggesting that any data concerning the cyber activity will be shared with a foreign agency only with the permission of the court and that the agency will be bound to keep that data confidential or face imprisonment or a hefty fine. These amendments will surely appease those sceptical about the fact that a distinction between matters of national security and public interest were not being made and that surveillance and investigation were bound to be misused by the concerned parties.

A sizeable objection remains at the freedom and extent of powers granted to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), that can block any website on the complaint of any citizen after “thoroughly” examining the activity and the PTA is also authorised to reopen any website. The amendments in the bill hope to address the lack of clarity as to what constitutes an offence under the bill and gives a clear picture of the degree of sentences awarded for the varying offences. Although the bill is stringent, a cybercrime law is required to address these crimes that go unchecked. But that does not mean that PTA should be allowed an uninhibited reign in the online space.