The Act’s PDF copy can be downloaded from here (if anyone knows of an alternative government source, please do let me know).
The gist of the Bill is to allow Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) to be able to use wiretap and digital surveillance techniques for evidence gathering and for the same to be applicable in court of law for prosecution. Whilst this seems very noble of an effort, civil right activists and even people who are reasonably educated with the laws of the land, have shown serious reservations about this (which incidentally was passed in the National Assembly in December 2012). The Senate passed this bill on 2nd February 2013 making the law complete and legal.
The bill essentially allows agencies carte-blanche right to tap citizens of Pakistan and monitor them). It has some interesting clauses and I am going to list some of them below with my comments on them (please note, I am not a lawyer, so perhaps my comments can be incorrect). Start out with Applicability of the Bill…
all citizen of Pakistan within or outside Pakistan [2.(1).(a)]
Now, this is a clear area where the government and its LEAs can indict citizens outside of Pakistan in criminal cases within Pakistan. Think activist, political refugees, asylum seekers, and the likes.
Another interesting clause in the Application of the Bill is…
It shall also apply to all transactions or communications originated or concluded within Pakistan or originated or concluded outside Pakistan by any person. [2.(1).(c)]
The entire world has been set as a domain. So, for example, if a person, who happens to be a Pakistani Citizen, living in say New York (US), and posts a tweet deemed offensive to the Government, the Government under the current Bill make a case against that said person, even though the entire conversation and medium was outside of Pakistan. This is pretty disturbing to say the least.
However, what takes the cake (in my opinion) is Clause (2) of Application…
(2). Any person liable for investigation under the provisions of this Act for a scheduled offence committed partly or fully outside Pakistan shall be dealt with according to the provisions of this Act in the same manner as if such an offence had been committed within Pakistan.
I tink the above is self-explanatory and one can deduce (extrapolate) the misuse factor from it. This essentially means as follows:
Bit it you are a Pakistani Citizen in Pakistan or outside of it…
What you communicate is within Pakistan or outside of it…
You can be charged as if the offense is committed within Pakistan.
There is little or no hope to address any grievances, in fact the Act makes sure the person of interest does not get to know about such monitoring, etc. at all (unless evidence is produced in a court of law).
Here are some other (summarised) clauses:
- Clause 13 of the Act cites that a copy of the Warrant cannot be made public or disclosed.
- Clause 14: Duration of Warrant Interception: The Warrant shall be issued for 60 days! There is no limit on the number of times this warrant can be extended, in blocks of 60-days. No limit whatsoever.
- Clause 18 (3): Where nature of surveillance or interception is such that is is not necessary to serve the warrant on anyone, then the same shall not be served and its issuance shall be sufficient basis to collect evidence. This is particularly disturbing as this allows the warrants to be issued without actually being served on anyone, including the legal counsel of the alleged accused.
- Clause 22 (2): The information collected to file an FIR cannot be revealed in the FIR itself and this information is and will be kept confidential at all times unless permitted by the Court.
This Bill is no doubt as a direct result of the Intelligence Services of our Country. We need to understand that we must debate such bills in detail, and how it affects us, as individual citizens of Pakistan. The ruling party (PPP) passed this without issue. However, despite all the hue and cry from the opposition and alliance members, the Bill sailed through, which is a testament of the influence of the Armed & Intelligence Services in our Parliament and Senate.
In, closing, I would like to clarify something. I’m not opposed to such bills. These Bills/Acts are part and parcel of what is required to have better laws. What I do differ on are the hasty clauses and non-accountability in this particular Act. In our society, if word of the law were to prevail in its true spirit and essence, a lot more progress could be made, however, this Act leaves much to the powers of the LEAs and very little to side with a person of interest, who may be wrongly harmed.