Reporters Without Borders has written a strong letter to the Minister of Information and Technology questioning the Government of Pakistan on the Cyber Crime Ordinance which was promulgated into effect barely a two weeks ago. Reporters Without Borders fears that a new law on cyber crime, revealed on 7 January by the authorities, will pose serious obstacles to “citizen journalism and calls on the government to clarify the definition of some of its provisions.
“This law prevents any blogger from posting photos or video showing persons who have not given their consent, the press freedom organisation said. “Pakistan has understood its right to give itself a law for fighting cyber-crime, but it is vital that this law should not obstruct freedom of information.
Reporters Without Borders added: “We urge the government to clarify the content of some of the provisions that we think are dangerous. With just one month to go to legislative elections, some of the articles of this law look like censorship.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act has been in force since 31 December and will be submitted to the new parliament in April, after it has been elected. Reporters Without Borders has written to minister of information technology and telecommunications Awais Laghari asking him to “provide guarantees as regards respect for freedom of information.
The law provides for the death penalty for anyone causing the death of another person by means of email messages. A Federal Investigation Agency representative in Islamabad tried to justify the law by referring to Daniel Pearls murder and describing the exchange of emails between the kidnappers as a “cyber-crime.
The letter written to the Minister of Information and Technology is reproduced as follows
Reporters Without Borders is worried about the impact on press freedom of the new Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which took effect on 31 December.
We would like to draw your attention to two of its provisions which strike us particularly dangerous.
- Article 13 on “Cyber stalking makes it a crime to “take or distribute pictures or photographs of any person without his consent or knowledge. Citizen journalism of the kind practised by bloggers is based on precisely this sort of activity. This article threatens freedom of information.
- Article 28 on retention of traffic data says: “A service provider shall, within its existing or required technical capability, retain its traffic data minimum for a period of 90 days and provide that data to the investigating agency or the investigating officer when required. The federal government may extend the period to retain such data as and when it deems appropriate. This gives the authorities control over Internet users data and our organisation fears that this provision could be abused.
During a news conference on 10 January to announce the implementation of this new law, an Islamabad-based federal investigation agency representative tried to defend it by referring to Daniel Pearls murder and describing the exchange of emails between the kidnappers as a “cyber crime. We do not regard the sending of the emails as a crime, although acting on their content to kill a journalist clearly was one.
With just one month to go to legislative elections, freedom of opinion is a vital issue. The fight against terrorism should not be used as an excuse to reduce Internet users to silence. We call on you to clarify these points in order to display more transparency and to provide the necessary guarantees as regards respect for freedom of information.
I trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.