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Pakistan threatens death penalty for 'cyber-terrorists'

Sabre rattling to prevent nuclear espionage

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Pakistan has enacted hard-line cybercrime laws that establish the death penalty for cyber-terrorism offences that lead to the death of victims.

The law stipulates that "Whoever commits the offence of cyber terrorism and causes death of any person shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life, and with fine".

Cyberattacks can cause damage to property or reputation, financial loss and inconvenience. But physical harm is never really on the agenda though it is possible to imagine scenarios where cyberattacks might disrupt the operations of a hospital electricity supply or emergency service call out system. Most often the threat of cyber-terrorism is evoked as a rationale for securing funding by US Federal agencies, for example.

Examples of cyber-terrorism cited in the statute include breaking into or attempting to break into government system to steal information on making nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, Reuters reports.

So the death penalty for cyber-terrorism measure seems to be more about establishing a tough deterrent against espionage in a country that has nuclear weapons and is on the frontline in the fight against Islamic militants in Afghanistan than about combating cyber-terror, in the normal understanding of the term.

Pakistan's new Prevention of Electronic Crimes law, established by a decree by President Asif Ali Zardari last week, also criminalises cyber-stalking spamming and hacking. Such offences will be punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment on conviction or heavy fines of up to Rs10m ($124,000). ®

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