This month, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication released a draft Personal Data Protection Bill for public comment. The bill has a wide scope, encompassing at a basic level the commercial usage of data from which an individual is identifiable, and creates a key role for user consent. While not without areas for possible improvement, the bill represents a positive step for Pakistan’s internet-connected populace. With support from Cyberlaw Clinic, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a Pakistani NGO that works in support of human rights and democratic processes online, submitted a policy brief to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication while the initial drafting of the bill was underway. DRF founder Nighat Dad said, “Working with the Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic was a unique experience, both personally and professionally… I believe that such platforms add indispensable value to the global advocacy endeavours and tremendously help in successful attempts at making the internet more inclusive and approachable.”
The Clinic provided DRF with a high-level comparative analysis of data privacy regulations in jurisdictions around the globe, including the European Union and the United States as well as Argentina, Morocco, and South Korea. The regimes analyzed were selected to represent a range of perspectives, having both commonalities and contrasts with Pakistan, and DRF attorneys consulted the research in shaping their recommendations, a number of which were incorporated in to the bill’s present form. Clinic students Audrey Adu-Appiah and Sheeva Nesva, both Harvard Law School Class of 2018, working under the supervision of Clinical Instructor and Acting Assistant Director Jessica Fjeld, authored the report.
This bill is particularly important in the sense that it may be seen as a shift in momentum from Pakistan’s most recent efforts to regulate cyberspace. In 2016, Pakistan enacted the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which was widely criticized for the broad powers it granted the government to censor content determined to be “illegal,” and for harsh penalties it imposed.
DRF is already at work on its submission for the public comment period, and the Clinic joins them in commending the Ministry for opening up the bill for comment, and hoping that engagement with various stakeholders and civil society at large results in an even more effective piece of legislation.