What makes the Cybercrime bill atrocious is the intent behind it
I was quite concerned when the Protection of Pakistan Act (POPA) was implemented a few years ago; I felt this may lead to Pakistan converting into a police state. That being said, with the recent implementation of the cybercrime bill, I’ve realised that I wasn’t wrong – my concern is now inching closer towards reality.
Am I against laws which may control cybercrime? Of course not.
Countries worldwide are trying various techniques in order to counter the ever increasing threat of cybercrime by implementing new laws and devising novel penal codes. However, what makes the cybercrime bill in Pakistan atrocious is the intent behind the bill and features of the transcript. There have been instances where viral social media posts actually guided our electronic and print media in taking action against corruption cases related to the country’s ruling elite.
The criminal activities that cannot be highlighted in electronic media due to tacit government control or self-censorship were revealed to the public through social media. For example, a video of angry passengers booting Mr Rehman Malik off a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight went viral on social media (as the flight was delayed due to his late arrival). The ‘Fix-it’ campaign by Mr Alamgir also caught the public eye thanks to social media. It seems that gimmicks such as banning different movies including Maalik, Haider, etc. have failed to control our people’s mentality, hence the state has decided to police what the masses are sharing over the internet.
Like POPA, the cybercrime bill nullifies the ‘innocent unless proven guilty’ and replaces it with ‘guilty until proven innocent’. Features of the bill are so clumsy and open to interpretation that it can be easily used to silence opinionated voices. For example, creating a website for negative purposes could result in imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of Rs0.5 million.
Now, who will define what a ‘negative purpose’ is?
If I create a website to develop awareness about corruption within our ruling elite (civil and military alike) amongst the masses, will it be considered a ‘negative purpose’?
If I start challenging the taboos in the society, is it a ‘negative purpose’ too?
Imagine if the common man was convicted in one of these cases, what would happen then? Considering the current state of affairs within the judiciary, our finances will be drained and our life would be ruined trying to prove you did not have a ‘negative purpose’ connected to your website or opinion. Plus how much time will it take to prove your innocence? That’s another story altogether.
You may call me a pessimist since I cannot see the positive side of this bill. Yes, cybercrimes are being committed and they should be put to an end immediately. However, the percentage of overall crimes in Pakistan are not that high. For crimes which have established laws, a brief look at the performance of LEAs and the judiciary is enough to clarify how serious they are when it comes to the protection and safety of its citizens.
The recent rise in the kidnappings of children in Lahore has frightened parents. Ironically, the IGP claims that such instances are not serious issues, yet the immediate implementation of an unfinished, under reviewed cybercrime bill is an urgent necessity. I am 100% sure that this cybercrime bill is nothing but an attempt to control the flow of information taking place on social media and an attempt to dictate to the masses.
However, I firmly believe that states which use such tactics are actually fooling themselves. These steps will further increase frustration amongst the masses and they will reach their boiling point eventually. Moreover, turning Pakistan into a police state will definitely give more control to the ruling elite and the result will be horrific; the current state of affairs in the Middle East is an excellent example of that.
Are the leaders pushing our country onto the very same path? Only time will tell.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.