PESHAWAR -- A recently enacted bill in Pakistan could become instrumental in crushing cyber-terrorism and other online crimes, if it becomes law.
The Senate July 29 passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, also called the Cyber Crime Bill. President Mamnoon Hussain signed the bill into law in August.
Authorities now have the tools to punish cyber-terrorists and other online offenders.
The law empowers the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigation threats and other online offences. It would mandate stiff punishments for hate speech, illegal issuance of subscriber identity module (SIM) cards and electronic fraud.
A convicted cyber-terrorist would face 14 years in prison and a fine of up to Rs. 50m (US $47,775).
"The bill will bring cyber-criminals to justice -- those who evaded punishment in the past because no law existed," Federal Information Technology Minsiter Anusha Rehman told the Senate July 29.
"The passage of the Cyber Crime Bill has given us a much-needed conduit to obtain convictions," Ayaz Ahmad, the deputy director of the Cyber Crime Wing in the FIA Peshawar office, told Pakistan Forward. "Use of the internet grows every day, and so do the chances of ... cyber-terrorism."
"We've formed a liaison with various international organisations that ... have the same agenda of punishing cyber-criminals," he said.
Authorities have made various arrests in connection with charges of cyber-crime since the bill worked its way through parliament.
The first arrest took place in Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where a suspect is accused of online harassment, according to a media report of August 15.
Observers agree with government officials like Ahmad that the bill will hit militants hard.
"The bill's impact will be significant on targeted elements," Muazzam Butt of Islamabad, a senior lawyer who argues before the Supreme Court of Pakistan, told Pakistan Forward. "It has strong language and specifies punishments for militancy-related crimes."
That said, "proper implementation" is essential, he said.
Butt expressed hope that the bill would help authorities "trace and choke off ... the never-ending trail of international funding to terrorists".
"The countries of the world ... should devise an international law against terror financing," he said.
Butt had another suggestion: amend the law to enhance the conviction rate for hard-core militants.
Another observer decried militants' exploitation of the internet.
"A cursory look at major terror incidents will reveal that innocents fell prey to slogans of violent 'jihad' that militants and banned outfits posted on the internet," Khalid Dawar, vice chairman of the Peshawar-based NGO In Search of Justice, told Pakistan Today.
"The misuse of the internet for indoctrination and propaganda should be monitored to isolate militants and cut short their activities," he said.
The new law "gives authorities an authorised legal procedure to dismantle the [militant] digital network", he said.
The bill's smooth passage through both houses of parliament shows the people's determination to wipe out terrorism after witnessing its carnage, it he said.
"The resolve of the government ... can be gauged by the unambiguous text of the bill and the severity of punishments," he said.