September 15th, 2020

By Ahmad Saeed


Opposition lawmakers have vowed to block the passage of a proposed amendment in the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which will give spying powers to the investigating officers.

The spying powers will be subject to the court’s permission for 60 days but can be extendable for 60 more days.

“The investigating officer may with the permission of court within 60 days of such permission use techniques, including undercover operation, intercepting communications, accessing a computer system and controlling delivery, for investigation of financing of terrorism under the law in force”, the text of the amendment reads. It also states that: “The aforementioned period of 60 days may be extended up to a further period of 60 days by the court on a request made to it in writing. The court may grant an extension if it is satisfied on the basis of the situation/reasons given in the written request. The provisions of this subsection shall be an addition to and not in derogation of another law for the time being in force.”

To ensure the approval of the amendment, the government will table the bill in the joint session of the parliament which is scheduled for Monday, 14th September.

The former senator of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Farhatullah Babar said that the opposition parties cannot give assent to such laws under the guise of fulfilling Financial Action Task Force requirements to avoid getting blacklisted.

“We have blocked such legislation in the past will never vote in favour of them in future too because we think they will ultimately violate fundamental rights of the people,” Babar said.

He added that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and FIA laws have already given ample powers to law enforcement agencies to take action against the crimes that involve offenses committed in cyberspace. The FATF is a global watchdog that sets international standards to fight money laundering and terror financing. Pakistan was put in the grey list in June 2019 by the FATF and was asked to implement a 27-point plan of action to avoid being blacklisted.

PML-N Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan said that the opposition does not want to create unnecessary hurdles in the government’s way to fulfill international obligation but cannot allow superseding constitutional rights under the garb of national security.

In August, the opposition rejected two FATF-related bills in the senate after which Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the opposition of blackmailing the government for getting a clean chit from the corruption cases.

Talking about the legality of the proposed amendment, senior lawyer Saroop Ijaz said that if someone moves to the high court or Supreme Court against the legislation then the court may strike it down under article 14 of the constitution which states that, “The dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.”

He said that although a judicial oversight is required to spy on someone else globally it has been seen that the courts only give weightage to governments pleas and don’t give a fair trial to the accused.

“To strike a balance between national security and fundamental human rights, such powers should be used in extreme circumstances with due diligence, and most importantly they should never be abused for political victimization,” he said.