Pakistan's Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill came into law in August 2016. This digital crime legislation gives law enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers to detain internet users. The new law, often referred to as "PECB," turns certain digital activities into dangerous pursuits.
If you are visiting Pakistan and want to get around the regional restrictions that your local TV station's website operates, you could use a virtual private network (VPN) to fool the site into thinking you're back home. Others in Pakistan might want to use a VPN to access blocked news sites, or conduct research through foreign databases. However, while these are legitimate and harmless uses of VPNs, trying such strategies in Pakistan may get you into trouble with the law, thanks to PECB. Therefore, you use a VPN in Pakistan at your own risk.
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The Pakistani authorities routinely block access to sites that contain pornography, or criticisms of the country's government. If you are just visiting the state, then you may feel that you are being unfairly restricted – like you just walked in on someone else's argument. PECB has been extensively criticized throughout the world. Fortunately, the digital crimes sections of the Pakistani police is not that sophisticated. They don’t actually track every internet connection that is made in the country.
PECB is so vaguely worded that a range of seemingly innocent activities on the web could get you into trouble without you realizing it. Covering your tracks with a VPN may actually be a safer option than inadvertently accessing a site that the authorities are tracking. VPNs help anonymize your web surfing and services with additional stealth measures that make your identity and location impossible to trace.
You might need a VPN for Pakistan even if you are not in Pakistan. PECB gives the Pakistani authorities the right to track down and prosecute all Pakistani passport holders wherever they are in the world for any of the transgressions listed in the law, or other misdemeanors that can be implied from the bill's vague wording.
This factor makes it one of the most pervasive cybercrime laws in the world. Beware if you were born outside of Pakistan, but carry a Pakistani passport because of your ancestry: this law could still get you into trouble even if you have never visited Pakistan. Foreign companies can also be prosecuted under PECB and foreign nationals visiting Pakistan are also liable to prosecution.
Be very careful not to give your identity away if you have the habit of writing hot-headed comments on social media, because that will help the Pakistani police track you down despite your use of a VPN. If you are a Pakistani national, keep PECB in mind whenever you access the internet. You should consider connecting to a VPN server close to your actual location when possible to maintain speeds. Connecting your VPN to India could be an option due to proximity and many providers have servers in this country.
Bear in mind that articles three and four of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill makes the use of VPNs a hazardous choice. However, the law also restricts your freedom of access to information. If you are a second-generation Pakistani living in another country, you may find this life-long ban on internet usage impossible to bear, which makes a VPN your only option. Choose servers that operate stealth technology, because that feature will make it impossible for the authorities to know that you are using a VPN.