The Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies held a poll to ascertain how the public in Pakistan perceived their Facebook data being accessed by the Government of Pakistan. 51.9% respondents endorsed the government’s attempts to access Pakistani users’ Facebook data. 37% respondents did not approve of government to access private data. 11.1% were uncertain about this step by the government’s in the efforts to control cyber crimes in Pakistan.
The Government of Pakistan made 471 requests for data related to 706 user accounts between July and December 2015. These figures were provided in Facebook’s bi-annual transparency document, “Global Government Requests Report”. 192 such requests were made for data related to 275 Facebook accounts in the first half of 2015, against which 313 requests were entertained. Apparently, there has been a 145% increase in the number of requests made by December 2015. Digital rights activists in Pakistan have time and again expressed reservations over the government’s increasing requests to social media websites for access to users’ private online data, deriving it an act of transgression of civil liberties in Pakistan. Experts suggest that the sole responsibility for data privacy does not lie with the government, but also with international social media websites that facilitate governments’ requests. While the legal experts agree that cyber laws are necessary for countering terrorism, online radicalization, and rising extremism, however, it is the structure of the bill that has twisted the intent behind its formulation.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) was formulated in consonance with the National Action Plan’s 20-point agenda to uproot decades-long violent extremism in Pakistan. Critics of the bill claim that the state will further misuse the new found authority to violate freedom of expression and basic rights under the pretext of a counter terrorism strategy. The PECB draft is widely viewed with scepticism by lawmakers and civil society. Despite this visible opposition, and the requirement of a two-third majority vote, the Bill it was pushed through with only 30 votes in a house of 342 members. Lawmakers have hinted at blocking the bill when it reaches the Upper House of the Parliament. Legal experts have termed the definitions of cyber offences in the bill as ‘vague’, with too harsh penalties. If clauses of the bill contradict the provisions in the Constitution of Pakistan, breaches can be struck down during the judicial review.