President Asif Ali Zardari has signed into law a controversial bill that will give Pakistan's intelligence agencies sweeping powers to conduct surveillance and collect electronic data by tapping phones and eavesdropping on emails.
The "Investigation For Fair Trial Bill 2013" was signed by Zardari during a ceremony at the presidency, an official spokesman said yesterday.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly or lower house of parliament on December 20 and by the Senate or upper house on February 1.
"According to the stated aims and objectives of the bill, it provides for investigation for collection of evidence by means of modern techniques and devices to prevent and effectively deal with scheduled offences and to regulate the powers of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies," an official statement said.
The bill has been criticised by rights groups for posing a threat to privacy and civil liberties. Officials said it will empower intelligence and security agencies to tap phone calls, monitor emails and gather data from SMSs and other means of electronic communications as part of the war on terrorism.
The electronic data gathered by security agencies will be accepted as evidence in court in cases registered under five security-related laws.
Law Minister Farooq Naek has said that after 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 lower house of parliament approved the bill only after incorporating more than two dozen amendments proposed by the main opposition PML-N and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
During a debate in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf gave an assurance that the law was not aimed at ordinary citizens.
Responding to concerns expressed by civil society groups, Ashraf said the bill's main purpose is to eliminate terrorism and it is aimed against "enemies of humanity and terrorists, and not against ordinary citizens".
Bill Allows Pak Intelligence to Tap Phones, E-Mails
Rezaul H Laskar/Islamabad
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