A new bill before parliament could severely limit internet freedom and raises concerns the state is legalising censorship and mass digital surveillance, rights activists say.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2015 has been passed by a National Assembly standing committee and is now to be debated in parliament before possible passage into law.
Rights groups say it would legalise state censorship of the internet, limit the freedom of citizens to criticise public figures online, and make user surveillance a legal obligation for all internet service providers.
Pakistan already censors the internet – mainly for content deemed anti-Islam or anti-government, as well as pornographic – but there is currently no law outlining how it’s to be done, by whom, and there are no oversight provisions.
The majority of the hundreds of thousands of websites monitored involve pornography, but many are also censored for content deemed against loosely defined principles of public morality or national interest.