The Parliament can’t seem to get a handle on the realm of cybercrime legislation – which isn’t completely surprising since it is mostly composed of a generation too old to have experienced the internet revolution first hand. The results have been predictable; ranging from unenforceable clauses to dangerously vague definitions. Perhaps cognizant of their inexperience, the civil society and stakeholders were invited for consultation, but the process has been fraught with tension from the get go.

The principle clash is this; the government wants a bill that encompasses all forms of online crimes and that gives the government license to prosecute them, the stakeholders contend that an all-encompassing law allows the government to misuse its power and curb the fundamental rights of citizens.

The National Assembly quickly lost patience with the protracted reform process, and washed its hand of the bill by passing it with loopholes and contradictions intact. Following a national outcry, the Senate vowed to fix it.

However, despite 47 amendments from the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, and 8 more from the Senate itself, the passing of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016 (PECB) in the upper house of parliament still led to a token walkout being staged by the journalists and civil society members in attendance.

The most salient problems relate to the powers of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) and the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA). Article 34 borrows language from Article 19 of the constitution, giving the power of interpreting constitutional provisions, such as “glory of Islam” and “national interest” to an “executive authority” – in this case PTA – thereby giving it the power to censor the digital media without any judicial or parliamentary oversight.

Despite several requests by the civil society, a proviso protecting artistic and political expression has not been inserted in the clauses dealing with defamation – leaving us all at the mercy of the PTA and weather it finds our comments in good taste.

Furthermore, Section 36 remains directly contradictory to surveillance procedures described in the Fair Trail Act – giving the FIA invasive powers to gather evidence. Furthermore, it allows raw surveillance to be admitted as evidence, which dilutes the safeguards enshrined in Qanoon-i-Shahadat Act 1984. Section 29, dealing with retention of traffic data, worsens this by demanding that ISPs retain data on users without determination of its protection, usage and eventual destruction.

This is not the extent of the problems; vague definitions, overly harsh punishments and contradictions still plague the bill – and it needs to be corrected before the bill lands in the subjective hands of PTA.

It may not be the “draconian” law originally passed in the National Assembly, but it still is a long way from perfect.