Data Protection law not likely to be passed before 2018 General Elections

ISLAMABAD:  Despite assurances of moving quickly to enact data protection mechanisms, government is unlikely to pass Data Protection Act during the tenure of the current parliament.  

According to sources within Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications, MoITT, even the initial draft of the law will not be open for consultation before early 2018.

Talking to Media Matters for Democracy, a source within the IT ministry revealed that consultation on the draft law, among the government agencies has not been completed as yet. Given the long drawn process of government and then public consultation, the sources remained apprehensive about the possibility of adoption of the during the current tenure of the parliament.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, who has been an active advocate for enacting protection mechanisms during the cybercrime law legislative process, expressed disappointment at the delay in data protection act.  “The government had promised that a data protection bill will be introduced within six months at the time of cybercrime act’s enactment,” he said. Mr. Babar noted that governments around the world introduced data protection act before introducing cybercrime laws.

Speaking on the concerns, a senior official at MOITT insisted that data protection mechanisms were already placed in PECA.  “We have put in place provisions that criminalized misuse of confidential information”, he said referring to Section 41 of PECA.  This Section states that any service provider or authorized officer will be imprisoned for three years or fined of Rupees one million or both for unlawfully and without consent disclosing data containing a person’s personal information with the “intent to cause or knowing that he is likely to cause harm, wrongful loss or gain to any person or compromise confidentiality of such material or data.”

Despite such assurances, Senator Farhatullah Babar expressed concern, “frankly, we do not even know whether any work is being undertaken on data protection act yet alone hope that it will be introduced in the parliament,” remarked Senator Babar.

On the other hand, talking of Media Matters for Democracy, Minister of State for IT Anusha Rehman, held that the draft data protection bill was ready and would be open for consultation soon.  She did not clarify how soon the consultation process will commence.

It is also important to note that under the Open Government Partnership, OGP, the Ministry of IT has committed to start the consultations on the data protection law from November 2017. The timeline committed to the OGP secretariat also demonstrate that it is unlikely that the law would be passed before General Elections in mid 2019.

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