Seminar on Boundaries in a Cyber World: Personal Freedom and State Imperative

A discussion on Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 and Information Technology Agreement

Electronic Crimes Bill: Only 3 out of 21 Offences remain Disputed

In a seminar on Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, it was revealed that after much deliberation, government is finally a step closer to incorporate civil society inputs in the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015. While commenting on the said bill, Wahaj us Siraj, convener of the Internet Service Providers of Pakistan, said that it is appreciable that out of 21 total offenses, only 3 remain disputed. However, he warned that the offenses which are left unaddressed are based on prickly issues that can grossly limit freedom of expression and can lead to unfair prosecution of innocent people for political gain. The disputable offences broadly included incorrect definition of spam, exemption of broadcast media from being criminalized for spreading false information and unfair criminalization of defamation.

The other speaker of the session, Ameena Sohail, member Legal Ministry of Information Technology,  explained that the recent draft of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill has gone through ample public debate and all the clauses are practically sound. Given how fast and compact the world is becoming, she stressed on the need for having a piece of legislation that can immediately respond to cybercrimes that include terrorism, spread of false information, defamation, obscenity and so forth. She provided a quick walkthrough of the processes involved in the formulation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015.

During the question answer session, Fareiha Aziz, director Bolo Bhi, showed concern over the fact that this legislation for cybercrimes should only be enacted after laws of cyber security are in place. She was also dissatisfied with MoIT not considering the recommended amendments to the bill and no explanation as to why the proposed recommendations are not being considered. Earlier on, the first session of the seminar dealt with the issue of whether Pakistan should sign the Information Technology Agreement or not. Speakers of the first session included Shaheen Viqar, Deputy Chief WTO Wing, Ministry of Commerce, Dr. Shoaib A. Khan, Pakistan Software House Association (PASHA), A. R. Tahir from the Pakistan Computer Association, Tahir Mushtaq member IT MoIT and Dr. Manzoor Ahmad, Pakistan’s Former Ambassador at WTO.

Shaheen Viqar gave a comprehensive presentation about the possible pros and cons of acceding to the ITA. She illustrated that countries that have acceded to the ITA have benefitted tremendously e.g. Indian software exports increased from US$ 5 billion in 2000 to US$ 100 billion in 2015 while in Philippines currently, exports of only electronic items totals approximately US$ 25 billion which exceeds the value of all Pakistani exports. The reasons for not acceding are primarily the fear of loss of revenue through import duties and possible discouragement of IT related industrial set up within Pakistan.

Dr. Shoaib shared his reservations about the many benefits that are being foreseen after signing the ITA and suggested that a national strategy needs to be developed to promote the IT sector of Pakistan instead of simply believing that acceding to ITA will solve all the IT sector’s problems.

A. R. Tahir showed support for the ITA by Pakistan Computer Association and said that this can help us gain wider links in the global IT markets. Tahir Mushtaq assured that MoIT is closely assessing the issues pertaining to signing of ITA and that things are definitely moving forward.

Dr. Manzoor suggested that it is high time that Pakistan signs the ITA since all countries except Africa have signed this important document. Currently Pakistan ranks at 151 out of 192 countries for Mobile Broadband Subscriptions per 100 Capita which is quite shameful. He explained that higher taxes on IT discourage connectivity which results in yearly GDP growth reductions of 1-2 percentage points. As far as the fear of loss of revenue is concerned, he said that these fears are not real because loss of Rs 3.6 billion in customs duty will be neutralized in two years and higher tariffs do not increase chances of bringing more investment or protecting inefficient industries such as TIP Haripur. He also explained that even if ITA encourages import of hardware, it enables small businesses to manufacture items complimentary to hardware imported which in turn promotes the national industrial sector.

The seminar was organized by PRIME Institute in collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and Atlas Network and was held in Marriot Hotel Islamabad, titled “Boundaries in a Cyber World: Personal Freedom and State Imperative”. Both sessions were chaired by Mr. Najaf Yawar, director and chairperson Management Studies Department GC University Lahore. Executive Director of PRIME Institute also spoke on the occasion.

Seminar Report

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ITA Agreement Position Paper:

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Presentations at the seminar:

1- Why Pakistan needs to accede to the WTO ITA – Presentation by Dr. Manzoor

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2- ITA – Presentation by Shaheen Viqar

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3- Efficacy of ITA for Pakistan – Presentation by Dr. Shoab

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