Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE: The suicide bomber in cyber crime law, The Daily Times, April 18, 2015

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When so much is at stake for the government and political parties in the wake of Yemen and Karachi, why should one worry about the cyber crime bill?

The UAE minister’s threatening jibe over Pakistan’s decision to stay neutral in the Yemen crisis and Pakistan’s interior minister’s tit-for-tat reply are not short of a fast paced thriller. The UAE minister’s tweet culminated in a ‘come at a cost’ threat. Perhaps the haughty sheikh knew well that if a friendly Saudi donation of about $ 1.5 million dollars could rescue a nosedived rupee, what jolt it would receive if Arab benefactors suddenly pulled the rug out from under our feet. A lot of anguish has been rightly shown by all sections of Pakistani society over the irresponsible and rude remarks of a ruling sheikh who believes that Pakistan is populated by child camel jockeys only. But what concerns me is the fact that we are often long on words and short on sustaining the consequences of a bold stance. When beggars decide to be choosers, they have to ready themselves for a bumpy ride on a rough highway. Experience shows that our will and deeds often do not match the ambitions we harbour.

Times are tough for the MQM. It seems that the political organisation has outlived its utility for the masters. It is neither the judiciary nor public opinion makers that count when the credentials of a person or an organisation are to be judged. When the masters make the declaration the national chorus automatically follows. The suspects in the Dr Imran murder case had been in the custody of the agencies for a long time. The government suddenly now has geared into action on this dormant case. The perception is that every possible incriminating evidence against the MQM is being made public at a time when the by-election in NA 246 is heating up. If the beleaguered MQM loses the seat, it would amount to a partial collapse in its stronghold of Karachi. On the other hand, if the PTI does not win the seat despite a very partisan environment, the Imran Khan buzz will receive a severe battering. After the audiotape leak and the return to parliament and a private television channel, Imran Khan needs something big to stall the erosion of his image as a national leader.

When so much is at stake for the government and political parties in the wake of Yemen and Karachi, why should one worry about the cyber crime bill? Let us appraise the new law. The bill has five chapters detailing offences like interference with critical infrastructure, cyber terrorism, electronic forgery/fraud, identity theft, sexual harassment, virus spreading, spamming, spoofing and prosecution formalities. The general scheme and content of the bill appear to be well intentioned and reflect a determined effort to cover as many offences as possible that are normally associated with the use of information and communication technology. But just as the sight of an innocent teenager wearing a suicide jacket is enough to turn a Friday prayer congregation into a potential bloodbath, there is one article that can prove to be the death knell of freedom of expression in the country. Article 31 is reproduced here.

“(1) The authority or any officer authorised by it in this behalf may direct any service provider to remove any intelligence or block access to such intelligence, if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.

(2) The federal government may prescribe rules for adoption of standards and procedure by the authority to monitor and block access and entertain complaints under this section. Until such procedures and standards are prescribed, the authority shall monitor and block intelligence in accordance with the directions issued by the federal government.”

My experience of conversing with civil servants shows that many are highly radicalised and are potentially Taliban sympathisers. Armed with these legal powers such officials can play havoc with the ideals of a progressive and thinking Pakistan if they act as custodians of the faith or moral police deciding on what is the glory of Islam or other highly subjective abstractions. In one of my previous writings, I complained that al Qaeda had seized the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) as many liberal and progressive websites had been banned by the organisation while extremists enjoyed complete freedom to run hatemongering websites. For many radicals even the views of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and many Muslim philosophers are against the glory of Islam. With the unbridled power of the new law, these officials will clip the wings of free thinking and will force Quaid-e-Azam to turn in his grave as he had envisioned a liberal and progressive country that was free of extremist views.

In my honest appraisal, I consider the new cyber law a step in the right direction but the suicide jacket wearing provisions need to be removed as they are unnecessary and dangerous insertions. The law should be anti-terrorism and crime-focused. Unfortunately, in the present shape it ends up as a direct threat to freedom of expression and opinion making

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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