Pakistan’s Problematic Privacy Rights

A New Cyber Law endangers Fundamental Freedoms
Online Privacy Conference in Pakistan

Pakistan adopted the much-criticized Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) in August of this year. Under this law, anyone criticizing the government on social media could be penalized. The supporters of the Act argue that at times when the nation faces many problems, constant criticism of the government could divide the people. Importantly, the law defines internet fraud as a punishable offence on one level with child pornography.

The PECA has received much criticism in liberal circles. Critics say, the law infringes Human Rights enshrined in the constitution. Section 34 of the law grants the government sweeping powers allowing it to “manage intelligence” and order the removal or blocking of access to “any” information online without prior legal opinion by a court. This, the foes say, is at odds with the international standards of protection of the freedom of expression enshrined in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

How to counter cyber-crime and, at the same time protect fundamental freedoms, is a controversial topic not only in Pakistan. Since PECA infringes human rights without a justification and also leaves legal uncertainties, the critics say the negative implications are more serious than possible positive effects. Uncertainty, they argue, is the greatest opponent of the rule of law. The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), in cooperation with the Pakistan Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), conducted the third “National Conference on Privacy Rights” in Islamabad in later November 2016. Participants included professionals, parliamentarians and activists working on digital rights, privacy and surveillance. DRF is a research based Pakistani advocacy organization focusing on Information and Communication Technology to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. “As the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) prepares to draft its rules and regulations under PECA, this conference is timely and its outcome has potential for real and substantial change” remarked Dr. Almut Besold, Head of Country Office, FNF Pakistan.