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Pak parliament passes controversial bill on snooping

February 03, 2013 15:45 IST

A controversial bill that will give Pakistan's intelligence agencies sweeping powers to conduct surveillance and collect electronic data has been passed by both houses of parliament, paving the way for it to be signed into law by the president.

The Fair Trial Bill 2012, which has been criticised by rights groups for posing a threat to privacy and civil liberties, was passed by the Senate or upper house of parliament on Friday.

It was passed by the National Assembly or lower house of parliament on December 20.

Once the president gives his assent, the law will empower intelligence and security agencies to tap phone calls, monitor emails and gather data from SMSs and other means of communication as part of the war on terrorism.

The electronic data gathered by the security agencies will be accepted in court in cases registered under five security-related laws.

Law Minister Farooq Naek told the senate that once the new law is enacted, all law enforcement and intelligence agencies will be governed by a uniform legal system for collecting evidence that will be admissible in court even if it is collected before the registration of an FIR.

"The law must encourage investigation and intelligence agencies to only collect genuine evidence in accordance with law and thus curb the temptation of planting false and fabricated evidence against individuals in violation of their human rights, due process and civil liberties," he said.

The lower house of parliament had approved the bill only after incorporating more than two dozen amendments proposed by the main opposition PML-N and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is part of the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party.

During a debate in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf gave an assurance that the law was not aimed at ordinary citizens.

"This bill will prove helpful in sending a message to terrorists that the whole country is united against them and accepts their challenge," he said.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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