Pakistan cybercrime bill faces delay, consensus not reached

Plans to turn country cybercrime ordinance into law delayed as stakeholders could not agree on critical clauses, with one camp reportedly concerned about its reduced powers.

Pakistan cybercrime bill faces delay after a parliamentary meeting failed to arrive at a consensus on critical clauses in the draft crafted by legal and industry experts.

The process may take a longer time as two key stakeholders, Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), could not reach a consensus on critical clauses, sources told The Express Tribune on Tuesday.

The meeting has now been cancelled for an indefinite period, putting the brakes on the efforts to turn the country's defunct Prevention of Electronics Crime Ordinance (PECO) into a law,

The 40-page redraft had been submitted to the country's National Assembly's Select Committee on Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, and was written by the P@SHA, and cybercrime lawyer Zahid Jamil.

Authorities unwilling to compromise power in new draft
The industry redraft requires the FIA to follow strict procedural guidelines to avoid misuse of power, but the federal agency is unwilling to compromise on its authority, said P@SHA sources.

Under PECO, investigation and prosecution agencies have been given the right to conduct searches, seize data and electronic equipment when they deemed activities suspicious. The ordinance was not turned into a law because it was criticized for threatening freedom of speech and action, intellectual property and the right to conduct business in a safe environment, the report noted.

"We addressed all these shortcomings and redrafted the whole PECO from scratch after one year of extensive work to make it a 21st century bill," Afaque Ahmed, a member of P@SHA's central executive committee who had been working on the draft told the news site.

The FIA had not been willing to compromise on its powers while the industry wanted to protect its interest. Both sides will therefore not reach a consensus on the issues, Afaque said.

Another Asian country, Philippines also faced similar issues with its Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which came under fire in October as it allowed authorities to collect data from personal user accounts on social media and listen in on voice and video applications without a warrant. The Philippine Supreme Court has since suspended the law while it decides if the legislation violates civil rights.