Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) Law Could Increase Censorship

Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB), a draft law that regulates Internet-related technology and content, could radically increase the government’s censorship abilities, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The bill, which was rewritten last April, provides the government with powers to control how people use various types of electronic technology, including the Internet and websites. Here is the document in its current form.

The EFF is warning that the bill is a “sweeping and arbitrary mess of law” that would give “a largely unsupervised set of censorship and surveillance powers to the Pakistani authorities.”

In particular, the law poses the following threats to online privacy, according to the EFF:

  • It could be used to punish people who use VPNs or Tor to circumvent censorship or protect their privacy online. That’s because the bill includes vaguely defined rules against unauthorized access to data or content. The government could use that provision to prosecute people who access official websites using VPNs or Tor without permission to do so.
  • People who make modifications to software without permission could be punished under the law. That includes even minor modifications like spoofing MAC addresses as a safeguard against tracking.
  • The bill provides harsh punishment terms (including imprisonment of up to five years) for anyone found guilty of using the Internet or other technology to promote people or groups — such as terrorists — whom the government bans. While that may seem a legitimate goal in some cases, the language on this point is too broad, the EFF says. It could potentially be used to censor any type of online content that the government chooses to label as inappropriate.
  • The law would require service providers to maintain copies of user data for at least one year, and to give that information to government authorities upon request.

The PECB has not yet become law but will likely come up for a vote soon.

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