HoR panel passes ‘restrictive’ IT Bill

Kathmandu, December 29

The Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives today passed the Information Technology Bill ignoring the opposition of Nepali Congress lawmakers in the panel. The bill proposes severe penalty for offence against state and computer hacking.

The bill also provisions a fine not exceeding  Rs 1.5 million or jail term not exceeding five years, or both, for posting content on social networking sites that may pose a threat to the country’s sovereignty, security, unity or harmony. The committee proposed to impose a fine of up to Rs 50,000 or six months jail term or both on those found guilty of cyber bullying. The original bill had proposed to punish people guilty of cyber bullying with a fine not exceeding Rs 1 million or jail term not exceeding five years or both.

The original bill had only stated that those found guilty of the above mentioned crimes shall be prosecuted under offence against state laws.

For those responsible for deleting or interfering with information stored in somebody’s computer, the committee proposed to increase the jail term from one year to three years.

NC lawmaker Ram Bahadur Bista said his party lawmakers wanted amendment to clauses of the bill that unreasonably curtailed people’s freedom of expression but the committee passed the bill ignoring the opposition lawmakers’ voice. “We are preparing to fight against the restrictive provisions of the bill in the full House,” he said.

Bista said the bill was bad for democracy as it proposed stiff penalty for cyber bullying and dissent expressed on social networking sites.

He added that the bill was against the spirit of the constitution as it curtailed the fundamental right of the people to freedom of expression and opinion.

The bill makes it mandatory for social networking sites to register with the Department of Information.

Executive Director of Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal said although the parliamentary panel put the bill on hold for four-five years taking suggestions from stakeholders, no substantial change was made in the bill when it was finally passed today. Dahal said there were 10-12 clauses that curtailed people’s freedom of expression but instead of removing the restrictive provisions, the committee increased punishment for some offences.

“What is worrying is that this bill criminalises electronic communication. This means if a person’s message communicated through email violates the provision of the bill, then the

person can be punished under this bill,” he said.

He added that the parliamentary panel’s decision might have been influenced by the government which wanted to bring restrictive bills one after another. “My fear is that the ruling party will move other restrictive bills forward and try to pass those bills soon,” he added.

Dahal said the IT bill would give unfair advantage to the government to silence those who used social networking sites to express their dissatisfaction.