Islamabad: 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.
Against the backdrop of concerns expressed by political parties and civil society groups, Ashraf said the main purpose of the bill is to eliminate terrorism and it is aimed against "enemies of humanity and terrorists, and not against ordinary citizens".
The Fair Trial Bill was approved by the cabinet in September.
The government has said the bill will allow intelligence and security agencies to use "modern techniques and devices" in investigating cases of terrorism.
The government further said "existing laws neither comprehensively provide for nor specifically regulate use of advanced and modern investigative techniques such as covert surveillance and human intelligence, property interference, wire-tapping and communication interception that are used extensively in other countries, including the US, the UK and India".
Under the law, SMSs, phone calls, emails and audio-visual recordings will be admissible as evidence in court while suspects can be held for six months after a warrant is issued by a provincial High Court at the request of heads of intelligence and security agencies.