October 20, 2018

Implementation of Electronic Crimes Act: Rabbani rules tabling of FIA report in Senate for in-camera discussion

Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani Friday ruled that without tabling the report of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on implementation of Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 in Senate, it can not be referred to relevant committee for in-camera discussion on it.

In his 13-page detailed ruling, he directed the government to provide complete information during the in-camera proceedings of the committee. The ruling also described the FIA report as ‘sorry state of affairs’ for not adhering to the requirements of the law and directed the government to formulate rules for preparing the report for submission to the House within 30 days and place the same before the Senate Committee on Delegated Legislation.

The ruling came in wake of a question whether the FIA report can be laid in House or it has to be treated as classified document for in-camera discussion only during the meeting of I&T Committee of the Senate. Earlier, the Chairman had sought the opinion of Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan, Javed Abbasi, Barrister Saif and Farhatullah Babar on how to deal with the report in view of the ambiguity in the language of the Act. The chairman quoted extensively from the advice given by these senators on the issue in formulating his ruling.

Talking to media persons, Senator Farhatullah Babar hailed the ruling as a landmark in ensuring transparency and accountability in the cyber crime prevention. The PECA 2016 was thus far open to serious misuse and abuse by the state agencies in the name of national security, he said. He said the FIA arrested people on the ground of ‘endangering federation and national security’ without explaining as to how a post on social media had threatened the federation or endangered national security.

A journalist was arrested recently by FIA in Quetta on the complaint of a security related agency in the province accusing the journalist of endangering the federation, he said. The journalist was later bailed out by the court. However, the FIA has still not disclosed as to how the complainant agency determined that the post on the Facebook of the journalist threatened the federation. He said that Information Committee of the Senate had asked the Information Ministry to find out full details of the post on social media but the FIA was not forthcoming.

Farhatullah Babar said that limits of what constitutes threat to the federation and endangers national security have been stretched to a laughable level and it is time to challenge them. The chairman’s ruling will facilitate in mounting this challenge, he said. Now the FIA has to come out with full facts before the committee, he said adding, “The door has been opened to the Senate Committee to suggest limits on what constitutes threat to the federation and the national security.”

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