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Pakistan's Senate Gets Smart About Terrible Cyber-Crime Bill

DEEPLINKS BLOG
May 20, 2016

Pakistan's Senate Gets Smart About Terrible Cyber-Crime Bill

Over the last few months, Pakistan's Internet community has been fighting to stop the passage of one of the world's worst cyber-crime proposals: the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB). Thanks in part to the hundreds of messages sent to Pakistan's senators, they secured a major victory this week—public assurances from key members of Pakistan's Senate that they will oppose the bill in its entirety. There's still work to be done, but it's a strong sign that public opposition is working.

As we've noted before, the PECB is a hodge-podge of failed and poorly-drafted solutions to a motley assortment of Internet bugbears, from spam to hate speech to criminal hacking. It includes provisions that would create unaccountable censorship systems, criminalize ordinary Internet user behavior, and instigate universal data retention for Pakistan's Net users: data that will be shared with foreign governments without consent.

Despite the near-universal condemnation by the technical community, the PECB passed Pakistan's lower house in April 15 with only a dozen lawmakers present. Opponents feared that the government would be able to smuggle the law just as quickly through the Parliament's upper house, the Senate.

Bolo Bhi, and the Digital Rights Foundation held a meeting Tuesday with Pakistani politicians to warn them of the consequences of the bill. It was a timely intervention: that very day, the bill's supporters tried to introduce it to the floor of the Senate for another rushed vote. Thankfully, at least some of the Senate has been listening to the concerns of technologists and civil liberties groups. Opposition politicians at the meeting assured the organizers that they understood the many problems with the bill, and had heard the calls from Internet users to stop the bill.

The Senators said they'd heed the calls for public consultations that the bills' drafters have ignored, and push not just for amendments, but for Pakistan's government to start from scratch with a brand new proposal. Senator Shahi Syed, who heads the Senate's IT committee, expressed his confidence that the house would not pass the PECB in its current form, and that a public hearing on the bill would allow the public to take part in the process.

It looks like the Pakistan government's attempt to rush the PECB through has hit a roadblock. But we need to keep the pressure on. If you're a citizen or resident of Pakistan, you can reach out to the Senate via Twitter using our PECB action alert. Tell them you support throwing out this ridiculous bill now.

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