Archives for February 2016

February 25, 2016 - Comments Off on Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 – A [shaky] step forward

Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 – A [shaky] step forward

Punjab’s violence against women problem is no small one. And the Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 is a good first step in addressing the oft ignored elephant in the room.

Punjab has had a real issue with violence against women. Data from 2014 produced by the Aurat Foundation has shown that the problem comes with big numbers. Punjab has the largest number of domestic violence cases reported of any province in Pakistan, and over 7,010 cases were reported during 2014 alone.

A 2002 study published in the Lancet showed that 99% of housewives and 77% of working women were subjected to domestic abuse by their husbands. Lack of data makes it impossible to figure out whether these numbers have reduced or worsened - but the larger picture is not a pretty one.

With this scenario in mind, the idea of the new Act is a welcome one - but for it to become a well oiled machine, there are still some problems that need weeding. In 2015 the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill was put before the Punjab Assembly, with the specific purpose of providing women in the Punjab with a form of legal protection against violence. On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, the Bill in question passed and became an Act.  

Though the Act in question does ostensibly afford women protection, it requires further serious scrutiny. It defines “violence” as:

“…any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime”

The bill mentions several forms of violence, and includes stalking and other cybercrimes. However, the bill fails to provide clear indications and explanations of what those terms mean and entail; in comparison, the newly added terms “economic abuse” and “psychological violence” are further elaborated upon in greater length.

But what’s a cybercrime?

It is regrettable that what constitutes as cybercrime is not clearly explained in more detail, especially in the context of cybercrime-related cases that are constantly on the rise. Cyberstalking, harassment through social media, sharing of inappropriate (and usually stolen) material, unauthorised power and access of computer systems, and the distribution of personal information belonging to other people all constitute cybercrimes; it is important that the legislation mentions this salient point, so that laypeople, women in particular, can easily understand what manner of acts can be reported, and what the penalties are.

Moreover, the bill fails to clearly mention which authority body will be looking into cybercrime, and whether it is the role of the police or the Federal Investigation Agency to take on cases relating to it. Should the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) be passed, furthermore, we must examine and determine which law will supersede the other.

Complicating the matter is the fact that many cybercrime offenders - including in particular online bullying and cyberstalking - will create numerous fake social media profiles. In doing so, quickly ascertaining who is actually behind the profile, and is the guilty party sought after, before they are aware of police being on their scene, becomes more difficult.

The GPS tracker problem

The bill also utilises abstracts without clear definitions. Provision 7(d) of the bill, for instance, suggests that the defendant:

“wear ankle or wrist bracelet GPS tracker for any act of grave violence or likely grave violence which may endanger the life, dignity or reputation of the aggrieved person;"

The bill does not clarify in what is defined by “dignity or reputation.” Further to this, the wearing of an ankle or wrist GPS tracker does not to be an effective enough deterrent, especially when it comes to harassment, whether online or offline.

There is also the question of what the repercussions maybe for a wife that reports her husband and leads to him being tracked with a wrist GPS. There is the potential danger that a man may react even more violently to the social ridicule and ostracization that may come with it.   

Moreover, there are no provisions to indicate who will be monitoring on the GPS trackers. We also do not know whether Pakistan even has the mechanism or capacity to handle such a medium of monitoring someone. Who will prevent this provision from being abused and how? Will the police, which is already lacking in resources, be able to react in time to a man violating the GPS order and staying away from his victim? There are many questions that need to be posed about these trackers, and the answers are nowhere in sight.

All in all, the bill is a good first step in the right direction. Pakistan, and Punjab, desperately need protective legislation such as this one. However, no legislation should be accepted without scrutiny. And the weaknesses in this Act could pose major problems in the future. In it’s current state, it is a fabulous work in progress that requires improvements.

Have a look at the full text from the Act hereProtection Of Women Against Violence Act 2015

February 10, 2016 - Comments Off on Pak telecom policy 2015 – another step forward for censorship

Pak telecom policy 2015 – another step forward for censorship

On December 11th, 2015, the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) approved the long awaited Telecom Policy 2015. The policy focuses on several issues faced by cellular mobile operators (CMOs), who, in fact, view this policy as a step forward in order to make the telecom sector more progressive.

Even though the policy may seem to cover the most important of issues, on paper at least, it is essential to note here that the policy document did not consider the CMO's request to have industry prominence, which was to help reduce their tax compulsions, including sales tax, income tax and customs duty, while being compiled.

The report extensively talks about generating a healthy environment for competition in several different categories. However, there is another point to consider when it comes to promoting fair competition: is the new policy really going to promote a more autonomous market or will it simply offer to provide enhanced protection and security to current monopolies?

Looking more closely into the policy document leaves more space for concern, especially when it comes to the proposed cybercrime bill-- the very debatable Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB).

Section 9.8 of the Telecommunications Policy 2015, titled “Content Management”, talks about the authority given to the PTA along with other authorised bodies to police content. A more detailed explanation of this section is included in Section 9.8.3, which openly states that the Policy will:

“Enable PTA to monitor and manage content including any blasphemous and pornographic material in conflict with the principles of Islamic way of life as reflected in the Objectives Resolution and Article 31 of the Constitution, material viewed as leading to the exploitation or abuse of children or other vulnerable groups, and material that is considered to be a direct incitement to commit a crime of a serious nature and detrimental to national security, or any other category stipulated in any other law.”

To no surprise, the above section 9.8.3 of the telecom policy 2015, blatantly coincides with Section 34 of the PECB, which states:

“The Authority is empowered to manage information and issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any information through any information system. The Authority may direct any service provider to remove any information or block access to such information, if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement to an offence under this Act. (2) The Authority may prescribe rules for adoption of standards and procedure to manage information, block access and entertain complaints.”

Looking at what Section 9.8.4 states, it is obvious that the PTA is given an almost natural right to regulate “access of content”, whereas, section 9.8.6 says that even though telecom operators as well as service providers will be able to take charge of the content shared with third-parties, the “Government will not require intermediaries to identify content to be filtered or blocked.”

Another disturbing aspect of the Policy is that it creates provisions for Lawful Interception (LI) since, under section 9.9.2, it reads that “the development of new ways of delivering telecommunications services and the new services that are evolving means that lawful interception is a constantly evolving requirement”, meanwhile PTA is to be responsible for the formulation of the framework in order to implement “evolved” Lawful Interception entities.

More specifically, Section 9.9.1 of the policy states that a framework is to be developed together by the PTA and authorised agencies/organizations of the GoP.

The rules will consider inter alia:

  • Mechanism for provisioning, maintenance, upgradation and expansion of LI facilities.
  • Possibility of joint provisioning of LI facilities by Licensees.
  • Provision for multi-stakeholder forum in the Federal Government (MoIT) to review and recommend adjustments in LI mechanisms and incidental regulatory adjustments.

Furthermore, many who have reviewed the policy believe that other problems which need to be taken up by the policy in more detail include, provision of public Wi-Fi hot spots, fast tracking right of way process for telecom infrastructure, abolishing grey telephony, creating telecentres with USF fund to surge coverage in under-served areas and a competition agenda focused to inspire well-organized and good market offering and choice of services to customers. The policy has failed to encourage and offer any incentives for Pakistan- based investors to enter the industry. Some sectors like the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), Manufacturing/assembly and application should be given priority reservation for local investors, taking inspiration from how other countries operate their telecommunication policies. Learning from our neighboring country, India, and the most democratic country globally, Canada, the Pakistan Telecom Policy 2015 should include Information Technology, which would make Information Technology a part of the document so that it can be called The National ICT Policy or Convergence Policy rather than the Telecom Policy, since the policy claims to abide by universal guidelines.

The telecom policy 2015 also fails to identify a proper structural framework of tax rationalization. Even though  the word on the block is that the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom (MoITT) is spurring up a tax package, the policy itself does not present any reflections of real commitments.

Another very important element missing in the policy is the issue of telecommunication services getting terminated or suspended during so called important days in order to keep a "security" check, with the growing culture of terrorism. The policy does not seem to address this issue nor does it present any solutions to this problem.

Bringing this debate closer to home, let’s look at what this means for the rights of citizens of Pakistan. Specifically, according to Section 34 of the proposed PECB, authorities would have the autonomy to censor and block certain content that is considered to violate or work against the “glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality”.

The PECB alone has been withdrawn and opinions in the Senate have vowed to speak against it, should it be brought forward for debate again. However, now that the Telecommunications Policy 2015 has been passed, the PECB seems more practical now than before since it is to implement provisions that support what has been proposed, and indeed is already being used by bodies such as PEMRA. Even though, the PECB is not a law, PEMRA is able to make sure that, for example, the Pakistani media outlets did not report on the Hajj tragedy of 2015 in a manner that was (justifiably) critical of the way that the Saudi Government took care of the situation, simply because, according to Section 34 of the PECB, it would have negatively effected  “friendly relations with foreign states”.

It is important to look closely at the countless ways in which the state will strengthen the power it possesses of censorship and surveillance.

All said and done, the Telecom policy 2015 has received a positive response from the industry but time will tell how well the policy and its proposals are implemented. Goals and targets of the policy, especially in terms of how the resources are to be acquired to achieve the objectives of the policy, need to be provided and a tool to measure the improvements is desperately needed.

 

Image courtesy: Daniel Rehn

 

February 04, 2016 - Comments Off on ‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

Public bodies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are negligent in complying with the provincial Right to Information laws.

Lahore, February 4th, 2016: Digital Rights Foundation and the Coalition of Right to Information today released their 4th report “The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies” which analyses the official websites of public bodies from the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from July 2015 to December 2015 in order to evaluate their compliance with Right to Information laws and provide constructive feedback to support these public bodies in increasing pre-emptive sharing of information with the public.

This report is the third in a series aimed at assessing the proactive disclosure of information by public bodies. It is a joint-effort initiated by the Coalition of Right to Information (CRTI) and Digital Rights Foundation, with a broader aim to measure how public bodies have been using the web. It is crucial for government bodies to use their web presence effectively and responsibly in order to promote good governance and reduce corruption. This research used the RTI laws of both provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - to evaluate the extent to which the laws are being followed.

The report found that while there have been small improvements in how these websites provide information, there has been a general reluctance in complying with laws that pertain specifically to

  • sharing the categories of information held by public bodies
  • a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body
  • information about particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by the public bodies

“It is important for the public to know what information is being held by each public body,” said Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation. “With the exception of the KPK RTI Commission, none of the websites provide a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body. Due to this, the public has no idea of where to go for their required information. When public body websites do not explain how a person can contact them to request information or even what information is available, this adds to the confusion and creates suspicion in the minds of the public. It is a direct violation of their own RTI laws which can be resolved by simply putting up a couple of web pages.”

Many of the analysed websites show that there is a general misunderstanding about what “Web Accessibility” concerns.

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” — Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.

When the report evaluated public body websites according to W3C standards, it found that there are a number of barriers that prevent interaction and access to people with disabilities. Correctly designed, developed and edited websites will give all users equal access to information and functionality. This is one of the major problems with all public bodies websites.

In previous versions of the report, the research had identified the areas in which these websites were lacking and had presented clear recommendations for improvement. The recent report has found that almost none of the websites acted upon those suggestions therefore, their scores have remained largely unchanged.

Link to the report:  http://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/July-Dec-2015-DRF-CRTI-Report-Proactive-Disclosure-of-Information-in-KPK-and-Punjab-Public-Bodies.pdf

Contact: nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

- End -

"Coalition of Right to Information seeks to promote an open information and communications policies at the federal, provincial and district levels across Pakistan. With various initiatives, the coalition of civil society organizations aims to promote citizen awareness and improve dialogue between the citizens and state."

Digital Rights Foundation is a research based advocacy organisation based in Pakistan focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on ground and online.  We firmly believe that freedom of speech and open access to online content is critically important for the development of socio-economy of the country. www.digitalrightsfoundation.pk

Join the talk on Twitter @digitalrightspk  and like us on Facebook!