October 17, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation in Hong Kong: Conversations on Data Protection, Gender, and Privacy

Digital Rights Foundation in Hong Kong: Conversations on Data Protection, Gender, and Privacy

Late last month, Digital Rights Foundation was in Hong Kong, taking part in two events concerning privacy - the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), and the 3rd Edition of the Privacy, Personality and Flows of Information (PPFI) workshop conference. DRF took part in a panel on Gender and Privacy in Asia at the PPFI workshop.

What is the ICDPPC & why did we go?

Inaugurated in 1979, the ICDPPC, according to Access Now, is a “forum which brings together a membership of 100 data protection authorities (DPAs) from more than 70 countries across the globe” with the decisions made at the forum being “influential” as “they shape data protection policy globally by providing guidance and tools for DPAs to fulfill their mandates.”

As we have highlighted through our advocacy campaigns and articles, Pakistan does not have data protection authorities or indeed data protection legislation, despite an overly broad cybercrime law - the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, passed in August 2016 - and a desire to be a new South Asian tech hub. DRF has been pushing for data protection provisions in the PECA both prior to and after its passage, to ensure that the private data of Pakistani citizens is protected. We went to Hong Kong to discern current global trends concerning data privacy, the nuances in a world where governments demand more surveillance and data retention powers, and what it all means for human rights, particularly in the Global South. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, the DPA for Hong Kong, hosted this year’s forum, with the theme “Connecting West with East in Protecting and Respecting Data Privacy.”

The ICDPPC being held in Hong Kong  is an interesting choice of location, given the Chinese government’s interest in bringing Hong Kong judiciary et al in line with Beijing, something that has given independence and civil rights activists and lawyers concern. Given that the Government of Pakistan has signed up to be part of CPEC, as well as Shenzen-based Huawei being given the contract for Pakistan’s ambitious Safe Cities project, Digital Rights Foundation and other rights organisations should share that concern as well with the citizens of Pakistan.

At the ICDPPC there were recurring conversations being held, including: Internet of Things (IoT), the impact of data collection by Facebook, et al on personal privacy across international borders, biotech, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, to come into effect early 2018), and the evergreen concern of security versus privacy. There were calls by panelists at the ICDPPC to respect the necessity of strong encryption protocols, even in the face of calls by politicians for a loosening of encryption - e.g. the UK and US government calling for “backdoors” into encryption software and encrypted messengers such as WhatsApp.

Legislation as it stands in Pakistan does not permit encryption without prior permissions from and application to regulatory bodies, specifically the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. Article 4 of the  2010 Monitoring and Reconciliation of Telephone Traffic Regulations (MTTR) requires that network operators allow for the monitoring and recording of real-time traffic both by and to be forwarded to the PTA. In July 2011 the PTA directed that encryption software and mechanisms that in its eyes contravene Article 4 of the MTTR to be banned. This condition of the PTA - which technically means that WhatsApp is some ways prohibited, yet widely used in Pakistan - is also one that a proposed digital protection authority and legislation in Pakistan may come up against, which in in turn is why the latter two are necessary, more now than ever.

What DRF hoped to see was more civil society involvement at the ICDPPC, with their concerns taken onboard. While there were civil society panelists - such as DRF partner Privacy International - the role of civil society in the development and larger discussions by the DPAs did not appear to be a large one.

About PPFI

Following the ICDPPC, DRF took part in the 3rd Edition of the Privacy, Personality and Flows of Information (PPFI) workshop conference, co-organised by the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur, Digital Asia Hub, and the University of Hong Kong. The workshop focused on Asian perspectives for privacy as a global human right, with us taking part in a panel that focused on Gender and Privacy in Asia.

An interesting observation by other participants - which also factored into our involvement on the panel - was the recurring trend of “honour” or “shame” being at the heard of privacy violation in Asian societies. A number of Asian countries, including Pakistan, do not have a word that directly translates into “privacy”, with some, such as Pakistan having synonyms for “personal”, which is telling in of itself.

DRF discussed what we observed through our training sessions and via our cyber harassment helpline, wherein the theft (and in some cases manipulation) of personal data would lead to young women being blackmailed, or else the perpetrators threatened to release their personal information to their families. It is the the fear of the latter, and how the family may react, that leads many victims to not come forward. When or if they do, however, there has been noticeable victim-blaming, even by officers of government authorities such as the Federal Investigation Agency, leading to further discouragement and disillusionment.

A key focus of our panel participation was the tragic case study of Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani social media personality, on whom the Guardian had recently released a short documentary earlier last month. We highlighted that overarching patriarchal sensitivity and misogynist attitudes led to her personal information - her Pakistani passport and national ID card - being broadcast by media outlets, and journalists - some of whom whose own privacy had been attacked by the government - tweeting out her personal details. These directly led to her murder by her brother. What happened to Qandeel Baloch was, for lack of a better word, a perfect case study for the need for data protection legislation in Pakistan.

Written by Adnan Chaudhri

October 13, 2017 - Comments Off on Data Protection Law in Pakistan: Policy Recommendations by DRF

Data Protection Law in Pakistan: Policy Recommendations by DRF

In view of the commitments made by our government regarding the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and public statements by the Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) to introduce a data protection law, Digital Rights Foundation has prepared a policy brief regarding data protection and privacy in the digital age.

Information and communications technologies provide immense opportunities and continue to grow in importance for all Pakistanis. However, their tremendous advancement has significantly impacted individuals’ ability to protect their digital identity, allowing for pervasive collection of their personal information by private companies and the government.

This policy brief significantly expands the discussion on legal safeguards, the general lack of guidance on Privacy and the broad powers given to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) under the existing legal regime.

We at DRF believe that in order to ensure systemic change, government departments must be open to meaningful collaboration with civil society. We urge, therefore, that the law be drafted in a manner that is inclusive rather than exclusive, responding to consultations and recommendations, taking the input of civil society and the private sector to address the issues highlighted herewith.

These policy recommendations are part of larger efforts to ensure that the drafting process of our laws is held to public scrutiny, accountable and transparent, leading to an informed public debate about the lack of privacy protection for Pakistani citizens.

The policy brief can be found here, and we hope that our public officials will benefit from it as well.

Written by Jannat Ali

October 09, 2017 - Comments Off on September ’17 at DRF: The Team Traveled Far & Wide Talking About Digital Rights

September ’17 at DRF: The Team Traveled Far & Wide Talking About Digital Rights

DRF in Karachi

DRF in Karachi

The team of Digital Rights Foundation came to Karachi in the last week of September to talk to the people about all things digital rights. We were at British Council talking to women in our session titled "Hamara Internet: Reclaiming Online Spaces for Women", and to kids in the session titled "Anti-Cyber Bullying and Digital Awareness Workshop" on September 23 and 24th, 2017 respectively. We were then at the Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents (iAct) talking to the young students about Online Safety, followed by a panel discussion titled "Politicizing the Internet" at the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. All in all, it was a busy but productive week in the bustling city of Pakistan.

“Hamara Internet: Reclaiming Online Spaces for Women”, British Council Library

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Out trip in Karachi was off to a great start with some amazing women joining us to discuss the travails Pakistani women face on the internet. There was a great discussion about consent, victim blaming and of course digital security.

“Anti-Cyber Bullying and Digital Awareness Workshop”, British Council Library

DRF BCL KHI

It’s always great to work with kids and their parents, and this session was no different. We discussed cyberbullying, coping mechanisms and how our younger netizens can secure themselves online.

Online Privacy and Safety Workshop at the Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents (iAct)

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Nighat Dad and Hija Kamran conducted a last minute workshop on Online Safety and Privacy during their trip to the city of lights, with the students of Institute for Advancing Careers and Talents (iAct) - a project of Habib University for the young students representing underprivileged areas of Karachi. During the training, Nighat and Hija emphasized on the importance of online safety and how it’s very essential to make informed decisions when browsing the internet. The session was concluded with a group photo with the amazing participants and a brief discussion on who takes the best selfies.

"Politicizing the Internet: Resisting Patriarchy Online" - A Panel Discussion at the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences

Irtiqa

Third session in a day and the last session of DRF’s visit to Karachi was scheduled at Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. It was a panel discussion titled, “Politicizing the Internet: Resisting Patriarchy Online. Nighat Dad, Hija Kamran, Fatima Athar, and Danish Ali from DRF were part of the panel where they discussed how the online experiences of women and other marginalised groups differ from others, and how this difference in experience is followed by self-censorship. There was also a discussion on how women can resist oppression and advocate for change in the online and offline spaces.

Our Right to Safe Spaces Online - Workshop with Lawyers in Lahore

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DRF conducted a 3 hour workshop with lawyers with a focus on digital rights. The workshop was titled ‘Our Right to Safe Online Spaces’ in which lawyers came together to discuss the ever changing problem of cyber harassment and hate speech. Participants discussed in detail about the prevailing laws in Pakistan and its implementation within institutions. They also discussed the importance of online safety and what measures to adopt in order to ensure their own safety as well as their clients.

Ending Cyber Harassment Against Women - Workshop at the University of Okara

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Jannat Fazal and Seerat Khan conducted a workshop on Ending Cyber Harassment Against Women with students of University of Okara on the 28th of September. More than 100 students participated in the event in which DRF touched key issues that women face online. Women shared their personal experiences of cyber harassment and harassment in general and were told about the remedies that are available to them in case of harassment.

UNESCO’s “International Day for Universal Access to Information” - Islamabad

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DRF’s representatives took part in the event to mark the international day for universal access to information by adding a gender perspective and speaking in terms of new media. Shmyla Khan participated in a panel alongside Sadaf Khan (Media Matters), Neil Buhne (UN Resident Coordinator), Mr Ahmed Naeem (Deputy Director, Punjab Information Commission) and Owais Aslam Ali (Pakistan Press Foundation).

“Hamara Internet: Reclaiming Online Spaces for Women", Lahore British Council Library

DRF BCL LHR

Hyra Basit and Shmyla Khan conducted a workshop for young girls on issues of online harassment and digital security. The session brought to light specific problems faced by Pakistani women in Pakistan and an excellent discussion around patriarchy.

39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, Hong Kong

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In late September DRF took part in two events - the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), and the 3rd Edition of the Privacy, Personality and Flows of Information (PPFI) workshop, both held in Hong Kong. The PPFI workshop, co-organised by the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur, Digital Asia Hub, and the University of Hong Kong , focused on Asian perspectives for privacy as a global human right.

Members of DRF spoke at the PPFI as part the panel on Gender and Privacy in Asia. Our focus at this panel was to bring attention to the consequences of a lack of privacy through the lens of gender, highlighting the case of Qandeel Baloch. DRF also spoke about our research and experiences with training sessions in Pakistan, and how they reflected the on-the-ground realities of gendered harassment and loss of privacy.

Twitter Transparency Report, January – June, 2017: An Uptake in Requests by the Government

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Pakistan is ranked 139 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 and classified as “Partly Free” by Freedom House in 2016. Furthermore, Pakistan’s request to social media companies for information and content removal is increasing at an alarming rate. This trend has been reflected in the Twitter Transparency report released September 21, 2017. DRF analyzed the report that can be accessed here.

Exclusive: The CPEC plan for Pakistan’s digital future

CPEC

A radical overhaul of Pakistan’s communications framework appears to be on the cards — or at least that is what Beijing and Islamabad have envisioned under their Long Term Plan (LTP) for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

A closer examination of the LTP document obtained in June by Dawn reveals intentions for a revamped communications framework, which includes components such as a fibre optic cable connecting Pakistan and China, a new submarine landing station for internet traffic flow, and digital TV for all. Details here.

Internet Shutdowns During Muharram

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Internet Services were suspended in whole of Pakistan on September 29 to October 1, 2017 from 8 am till 10 pm in major parts of Pakistan to mark the religious events of Muharram due to the strict security arrangements to safeguard Muharram processions. Read details here.

Man sentenced to death over 'blasphemous' WhatsApp text

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A Pakistani Christian man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after he allegedly sent a Muslim friend a poem on WhatsApp that insulted Islam, a lawyer said Friday. Nadeem James was charged in July last year after his Muslim friend Yasir Bashir complained to the police that he received a poem on the messaging app that was derogatory toward the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and other holy figures. Details here.

ATC indicts four for blasphemy on social media

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An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on Tuesday indicted four out of seven suspects for allegedly publishing blasphemous content about Islam on social media. ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand arraigned the suspects, who pleaded not guilty and decided to stand trial. Details here.

Blue Whale Challenge: Something Fishy

Blue-whale

This week Pakistan joined the moral panic party surrounding the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’. Here is a detailed article separating fact from fiction.

September 25, 2017 - Comments Off on Twitter Transparency Report, January – June, 2017: An Uptake in Requests by the Government

Twitter Transparency Report, January – June, 2017: An Uptake in Requests by the Government

Incursions onto free Speech, particularly with reference to the internet, are on the rise, creating a climate of fear and oppression for social media activists and bloggers, ultimately resulting in self-censorship. Pakistan is ranked 139 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 and classified as “Partly Free” by Freedom House in 2016. Furthermore, Pakistan’s request to social media companies for information and content removal is increasing at an alarming rate. This rise comes in light of the fact that Pakistan has passed the cybercrime legislation, ostensibly to prevent misuse of freedom in online spaces, that has raised concerns in terms of right to free expression and privacy.

This trend has been reflected in the Twitter Transparency report released September 21, 2017. Pakistan had made a total of four account information requests between July and December last year, compared to seven requests made during the first half of 2017. The number of requests made was higher and so was the number of accounts specified in the requests that had increased from 38 in the second half of 2016 to 60 in the first half of 2017.

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Pakistan also made 7 requests to Twitter for the removal of 24 accounts between July to December last year, compared to 24 removal request for 82 accounts in the first half of 2017.

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The report demonstrates more than a twofold increase in the first half of 2017, for much too obvious reasons.

Foremost, since the promulgation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the situation has only deteriorated. It places new curbs on free expression and legitimate internet usage under which mere criticism of the military, judicial system and religion can lead to imprisonment. Further, it has resulted in increased government surveillance and monitoring of bloggers, providing them with no accountability or redress.

In early January, 5 bloggers from different cities were allegedly abducted for questioning the political influence of the establishment and speaking up for the rights of religious minorities.

This was followed by another crackdown on social media activists in May for posting anti-state content and maligning its institutions, military in particular.

Presumably, such practices may have potentially contributed to the increase of Government’s request to Twitter. They demonstrate the abuse of the space that we have given up by allowing laws such as PECA to pass and to encroach on our rights.

Interestingly, Twitter declined all requests for account information and removal of accounts and claimed that it did not remove any account or provide any data to the government as opposed to a global trend which saw Twitter suspending more accounts than ever before.

Although, the nature of the requests made by our Government are unclear but none of the 24 removal requests made were legal requests or in the form of a court or legal order, therefore, questioning the legitimacy of requests and potential abuse of power by law enforcement and security agencies.

This shows that the lack of transparency by our Government in relation to the process and selection criteria of requests demonstrated by the absence of judicial oversight could have potentially led to Twitter’s refusal.

On the contrary, Brazil and Turkey made 15 and 715 content removal requests respectively, to Twitter in the form of court orders and successfully got 15% and 11% of the reported content respectively, removed.

Therefore, it is time our government applies similar checks and balances primarily to prevent the intelligence and security agencies from the use and abuse of arbitrary powers vested in them by legislations such as PECA.

It is urged that prior to making information or content removal requests, potentially infringing constitutional rights of Pakistani citizens, a mandatory court order based on clearly defined rules should be required and only in extremely exceptional cases requiring urgent action, should it be exempted.

Author: Jannat Ali

September 07, 2017 - Comments Off on Is the collection of student data by LEAs permitted by law?

Is the collection of student data by LEAs permitted by law?

In the wake of an attack on the leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly, allegedly carried out by a Karachi University student, concerns of student militancy over the years continue to grow. In this context, the aim of the collection of private student data by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) is to ostensibly track and curb potential involvement in terrorism.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), passed in 2016, does provide a mechanism whereby an authorized officer may by notice, require universities to provide or preserve the specified data for up to 90 days and only bring to the notice of the court within twenty four hours after the acquisition of the data. The court may issue a warrant for disclosure, furthermore, if the court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the purpose of preventing crime.

It is unclear, therefore, as to which provisions law enforcement agencies (LEAs) will be relying on in order to legitimise such large-scale data collection. Simultaneously, there are no direct data protection laws in Pakistan that would challenge this invasion of privacy. Further to this, the security agencies that the LEAs will be working alongside have yet to finalise or even develop an effective mechanism in regards to data collection and with respect to privacy.

The PECA provisions listed above, furthermore, are only strictly applicable in relation to ‘ongoing’ criminal proceedings or investigation and cannot be used as a tool to profile or surveil all university students under the guise of national security. As a nation with security state characteristics, Pakistan has troubling precedent in regards to overriding fundamental human rights in the name of security, and which we could see happening here.

There are similarities that could also be drawn between student data collection and the compulsory SIM registration policy by NADRA, which were promoted and created as a means of cracking down on potential terrorists. It is likely that a similar policy would be adopted by the security agencies, using much the same justification.

Putting private data of university students under intense scrutiny could exacerbate an already stressful atmosphere - students are required to provide “character” certificates when being admitted, and there is an increase in CCTV monitoring at entrances and exits of several campuses across Pakistan. Such mass surveillance of students must be condemned, as this would harbour distrust and anxiety in students. Rather than make them feel safer, mass surveillance would actually increase feelings of insecurity, as they would feel unable to express their views freely.

Data collection and other aforementioned anti-terrorism actions by the state have thus far generally failed to garner support, even within parts of the government. Senator Raza Rabbani echoed concerns similar to ours in a letter (which can be found at the end of this post) addressed to the Vice Chancellor of Karachi University:

the police and the intelligence agencies are the hard face of the state, an interaction with them will further consolidate the anxiety and fear in the minds of the students.

Senator Rabbani stressed that while immediate steps must be taken to address the issue of extremism - proposing a total review of the university curriculum, as well as the implementation of the Senate of Pakistan’s Resolution on restoring student unions - “diverse literary and academic activity” could play in building an effective counter-paradigm. From this it can be inferred that the Senate of Pakistan recognises free speech as a fundamental right that can be a far greater bulwark against terrorism than mass surveillance. This recognition could aid in the development of a major shift in Pakistan’s human rights history.

What is needed is a robust data protection legal regime that prohibits the retention of data by third parties to be later provided to the government. It should explicitly state the exceptions and should specify which information should and should not be disclosed to the government, if the need arises. It should impose a duty on organizations including universities to take specific measures to protect the student’s personal data and penalize them for non-compliance. Further, for less serious cases, there should be a non-mandatory mechanism whereby the university should decide if it would be necessary and proportionate to disclose information to LEAs.

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September 06, 2017 - Comments Off on August 2017 at DRF: Nighat Dad Represents the People of Pakistan at TED Global

August 2017 at DRF: Nighat Dad Represents the People of Pakistan at TED Global

Nighat Dad Speaks at the TED Global Stage

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The entire team of Digital Rights Foundation is ecstatic to share that our very own Nighat Dad was in Arusha, Tanzania to speak at TED Global 2017 on August 28.

Nighat spoke about her own struggle to safely access the technology and how that struggle led her to make things easy for other women in the country. She talked about her dream of a reclaimed online world for women where they're not harassed for expressing their opinions and for making their voices heard; the dream that made way for her to establish Pakistan's first Cyber Harassment Helpline.

Nighat represented the people of Pakistan on a stage as prestigious as TED and received an overwhelming standing ovation from the audience.

For Nighat and for the entire DRF, the inspiration comes from these very people who we represent - the people of Pakistan. The support that our people have given us throughout our journey of making the internet safe and accessible for everyone is what keeps us going, and we'll do whatever it takes to achieve the dream that benefits us all because the road is long and the fight isn't over yet.

As Nighat said on the TED stage:

"These women, who pretend to be okay when nothing’s alright, are the women I look up to. They are the strong ones who give me strength and power to speak up for them and soldier on. And my struggles and efforts for the open and safe internet are dedicated to them and their unfettered courage and resilience."

Here's to the strong people of Pakistan.

Cyber Harassment Helpline Expands its Operations

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The Cyber Harassment Helpline is ecstatic to announce that it has expanded its operations to seven days a week. Previously our capacity allowed to us cater to calls five days a week--from Monday to Friday, but building on the success of its first nine months of operations we are able to provide more urgent and timely services. Read details here.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 Completes its First Year

PECA Anniversary Cover

August 2017 marked one year since the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) was passed by the National Assembly. Did the Act fulfill its stated aims? Are online spaces any safer or has it resulted in online self-censorship? DRF published a review of the Act’s progress through a short analysis and illustrative timeline which can be accessed here.

MOU signed with Lo Bono Law

Lo bono Law

Our Cyber Harassment Helpline signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Karachi-based Lo Bono Law which a law firm established to provide cost effective quality legal services to those who cannot afford high costs of litigation. It provides quality legal services to indigent clients.

DRF can now refer callers to Lo Bono as part of its referral system, continuing its aim to provide more comprehensive legal services to victims of online harassment.

Find out more about Lo Bono here.

Punjab IT Board Focus Group Discussion on Cybersecurity

On August 24th, DRF took part in a Punjab IT Board (PITB) Focus Group Discussion on Cybersecurity. Organised by Techhub Connect, the discussion focused on the dire state of Pakistan’s cybersecurity infrastructure, and the need of the government and tech industry to address threats to national tech infrastructure. The discussion also looked at the lack of sufficient awareness by the public regarding cybersecurity practices and awareness regarding privacy etc.

The discussion, which included IT researchers and senior telecoms executives, also focused on and introduced the creation of a Punjab Cyber Emergency Response Team (P-CERT), and invited feedback concerning the P-CERT team.

DRF raised concerns that the FGD was not focusing on legislative reforms, and pushed for changes that reflected and respected the rights of citizens. DRF also brought up that the overly broad Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act could risk discouraging people with the tech skills necessary for cybersecurity initiatives, eg White Hat hackers, because of harsh penalties.  Cybersecurity, DRF remarked, needs to ensure that there is a balance between rights and security that does not limit the former, otherwise what is the latter protecting?

Hamara Internet Workshop ‘Our Right to Safe Online Spaces’ with Civil Society

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Digital Rights Foundation and FNF organized the Hamara Internet workshop titled ‘ Our Right to Safe Online Spaces’ with civil society members in the month of August. The workshop focused on how civil society members can  come together as agents of change and create online spaces that are safe for not just women but also other marginalized communities. The workshop also raised awareness around online safety amongst civil society members and educated them about the additional resources available to them in case of cyber harassment. Civil society members also discussed the implications of mental health and coping mechanisms in place for human right defenders.

Workshop on Digital Empowerment for Women in Media

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The team of DRF kicked off a 2 day basic online safety training course titled “Digital Empowerment of Women in Media” in mid August, in Lahore. Women in media from all over Punjab and KP were selected to participate in this session, which featured hands-on training with security tools especially designed to help journalists and citizen bloggers protect themselves in the digital age and ensure they can continue their mission of free and impartial reporting without facing aggravated personal risk for it. Based on our research published in December 2016, female journalists in Pakistan don’t feel safe expressing their opinions online, hence are scared of the consequences while simply performing their job. That's why the workshop also included a special portion on self care and mental health awareness throughout.

August 16, 2017 - Comments Off on The Cyber Harassment Helpline Expands its Operations

The Cyber Harassment Helpline Expands its Operations

The Digital Rights Foundation is expanding the services of the Cyber Harassment Helpline. As of August 19, 2017, the helpline will be operational throughout the week, including on Saturday and Sunday. The helpline support team will be taking the calls from 9 AM to 5 PM. The expansion wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our friends at Digital Defenders Program. The helpline has also signed an MoU with Ahung, and also with  Lo Bono Law, which is specifically geared towards providing low cost, high quality legal services to clients unable to bear the high cost of legal representation in courts of Sindh.

The Cyber Harassment Helpline is the region’s first dedicated helpline for cases of online harassment and violence. It was established in December 2016 to help the victims and survivors of online harassment with their ordeal. The services of the helpline are confidential,gender-sensitive and completely free-of-cost. The Support Team comprises of the trained lawyers, digital security experts, and qualified psychologists who assist the callers according to their needs.

The helpline, as it is no secret, was started with limited resources and on a very urgent basis to extend support to the people who didn’t know who to turn to when they fall victim to any kind of abuse online. In all honesty, the team didn’t expect a lot of calls when the service was launched. But to our surprise, just in the first week of its launch, the team answered 10 genuine calls daily  on average. We were humbled by the response, but also deeply worried with the stories and experiences our callers shared with us. By the time the helpline completed its 6 months of operations, we had received over 700 calls, out of which 63% were from women while 37% callers were men.

The six month report of the Cyber Harassment Helpline also outlines the psychological impact that online violence leaves on the survivors of harassment. According to the report, 19% of the callers experienced insecurity, 17% went through depression, 16% suffered chronic stress, and 15% experienced disturbed sleep.

It was then when we realised that online harassment needs to be taken seriously on governmental  level as well, in the corridors of the parliament and public offices. The DRF is constantly pushing for policy reforms within cyber crime wings of Federal Investigation Agency, pushing the concerned official to address the complaints referred to the FIA  and take immediate action against the perpetrators of online harassment.

Moreover, a strong support system is extremely crucial when someone experiences harassment, be it online or offline. It’s important that the people around the victim refrain from victim blaming, and the least they should do is to believe them when they express their ordeal. If you or someone you know is going through an unpleasant situation online, please call us immediately on the toll-free number 0800-39393 everyday from 9 AM to 5 PM, 7 days a week, or email us at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk. For more information on the helpline and its policies, click here.

August 09, 2017 - Comments Off on Of Data Protection, Women’s Rights, Harassment, and Helpline: An Overview of July 2017

Of Data Protection, Women’s Rights, Harassment, and Helpline: An Overview of July 2017

DRF Launches 6-month Report on the Cyber Harassment Helpline

Helpline report

It is with great passion and hard work that the Cyber Harassment Helpline initiated by DRF reached the 6th month of its operation, and with it, came the release of its bi-annual report. The Cyber Harassment Helpline is the first of its kind in the region, and is run by a dedicated team to provide specialized digital, psychological, and legal help for cases of online harassment and violence. In the space of these 6 months, the Helpline has received 703 calls from all over the country. This time around, the report also included the psychological state of the callers, in an attempt to bring attention to the psychological trauma that online violence leaves on the victims and survivors of abuse. The report can be accessed here [PDF].

DRF Discusses Online Harassment and Surveillance from a Feminist Perspective at APrIGF 2017

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The APrIGF was held on 26-29 July 2017 at the Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. DRF organized two panels around the subjects of online harassment (“Understanding Solutions Towards Online Harassment” and a stream of the session can be accessed here) in collaboration from SFLC.in and gendered surveillance (“Surveillance from a Feminist Perspective” and a stream of the session can be accessed here). Shmyla Khan, a fellow at APrIGF, was also part of a panel “Hack to fight online violence”.

Open Government Partnership: Consultative Meeting on “Use of Technology for Openness and Accountability"

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The Planning and IT Department of Pakistan called a consultation meeting on Pakistan’s National Action Plan for Open Government Partnership (OGP) on July 10, 2017. The meeting titled “Consultative meeting on ‘Use of Technology for Openness & Accountability’” focused on one of the OGP themes “Use of Digital”. The representatives of DRF discussed the commitments proposed by DRF, including open information and data protection. Adnan Chaudhri of DRF stated, “The main problem is a lack of direct data protection legislation on the books in Pakistan. As a result telecoms and other industries that utilise citizen data have not put more legal attention or focus on their own inconsistent consumer privacy policies. This is all the more glaring given that those telecoms that operated outside Pakistan will provide more comprehensive and detailed privacy policies depending on the territories they operate in, because of the laws.” DRF also emphasized that Citizen involvement requires that there be stronger data protection laws that spell out for citizens- in English, Urdu and other regional languages - what happens to their data etc.

Making All Voices Count: Learning Event in Islamabad

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Accountability Lab hosted a learning event with Making All Voices Count: A Grand Challenge for Development grantees in Islamabad on July 10 and 11, 2017. Seerat Khan and Shmyla Khan from the DRF team represented the organization and shared their experiences of working on the Hamara Internet project. They also got a chance to present their findings at a public learning event attended by representatives from organizations such as DFID - UK Department for International Development, The Asia Foundation, the Hashoo Foundation and several others.

Aware Girls: Pak-Afghan Women Peace Exchange Program

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DRF presented its work in the field of gender and digital rights in Pakistan and its implications in the region al the Conference on July 18, 2017. The event was attended by prominent women’s rights activists and parliamentarians.

Cyberbullying workshop @ British Council Library

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DRF conducted a session in Lahore on cyberbullying and child online safety titled “Anti-cyberbullying and digital awareness workshop” on July 16, 2017 at the British Council Library. The event was attended by children between the ages of 12 to 15 along with their parents.

2nd Dialogue Forum on Implementing Right to Information Acts- Promoting Data-Driven Journalism

DRF attended a meeting titled “2nd Dialogue Forum on Implementing Right to Information Acts- Promoting Data-Driven Journalism” called by GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) to acquire feedback from the participants for further challenges, needs and recommendations regarding Right to Information Act. The meeting was held in Lahore on July 20th, 2017.

The Internet as a Forbidden Library: Pakistan’s Clampdown Against Data Freedom

Internet as a forbidden library

"The most important aspect of any statutory legislation is its language and terminology, which expands or restricts the scope of its controlling provisions. The Cyber Crime Act 2016 is worded ambiguously enough so that it is entirely up to the discretion of an authorized offer to investigate, seize, prosecute and penalize an enumerated offender." Read the blog by Digital Rights Foundation here.

The Conviction of Taimore Raza and The Jurisprudential Insight It May Provide

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"Pakistan has often lagged behind developed nations in matters of technology. It appears that it is also behind in matters of jurisprudence pertaining to technology related issues of law. The Constitution and laws of the country may be adequate to deal with new age issues, however, we will only be able to say that for sure after the Superior Judiciary grapples with several such issues and pronounces authoritative opinions on the matter. Till then, its best to err on the side of caution." Read the blog by Digital Rights Foundation here.

Why Pakistan Badly Needs A Data Protection Law

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"A data protection law regulates, defines, limits and controls the type of data that can be stored, analyzed and processed by both public and private entities and the purposes and durations for which this information may be used. It acts as a safeguard against the misuse and mishandling of private data and provides citizens with a mode of accountability." Read the blog by Digital Rights Foundation here.

Female Lawmaker in Pakistan Accuses Imran Khan of ‘Inappropriate’ Texts. Abuse Follows.

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When a Pakistani lawmaker [Ayesha Gulalai] said this past week that she had received “inappropriate text messages” from a male colleague, she was met with a wave of vitriol on social media.

Nighat Dad, the executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation, a Pakistani internet advocacy group, said, “There is a culture of violence against women that already exists in the home, the workplace, in public places, and now it is increasingly manifesting itself in online spaces as well.”

Read the full article on The New York Times.

Ayesha Gulalai is paying the price for decrying harassment publicly

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On August 1, Ayesha Gulalai - an MNA and now former member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) - came forward with allegations of harassment against Imran Khan - Chairman PTI - and claimed that she had been receiving lewd messages and overtures from him since October 2013. Gulalai’s allegations were largely rejected by the public, leading to a backlash.

The inevitability of the backlash stems from the fact that in the majority of cases involving harassment, women are, more often than not, castigated whenever they speak up and hold a public figure accountable for his actions.

Read here how women who choose to break their silence against the harassment they face, are treated in Pakistan. A blog by Hija Kamran and Zoya Rehman of Digital Rights Foundation in Dawn.

'It's all sextortion and revenge porn': the woman fighting cyber abuse in Pakistan - The Guardian

Nighat Dad

After the killing of Qandeel Baloch last summer, Nighat Dad reached breaking point. Visiting colleges and universities across Pakistan, Dad had been building quite a reputation for herself and her work. She was spreading the word about the Digital Rights Foundation she established in 2012 to help Pakistani women deal with the new phenomenon of online harassment. Read the article by The Guardian.

August 08, 2017 - Comments Off on How to Keep Yourself from Becoming a Cyberstalking Statistic

How to Keep Yourself from Becoming a Cyberstalking Statistic

The free flow of information created by the internet can be both a blessing and curse. Though we can enjoy unprecedented levels of access to information for purposes such as research, education, activism, corporate oversight and government accountability, there is a real trade-off for this increased knowledge about the world around us. Specifically, our individual privacy and the amount of personal information that is now freely available online for anyone who cares to do a simple search has changed dramatically thanks to the digital revolution.

For many of us, the loss of privacy is merely an annoyance, but for others, it can pose a true threat to safety. The anonymity of cyberspace can give stalkers practically limitless information about their victims. Also, the internet provides another communication channel for these cyberstalkers to harass and intimidate their targets.

Though no one can predict or prevent the behavior that instigates a stalker’s obsession, there are ways you can protect yourself and your online identity to make it harder for anyone to gather personal information about you. Here are some ways you can protect your identity online and keep yourself from becoming a cyberstalking statistic:

Know Your Rights

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), passed by the National Assembly and approved by the Senate in 2016, is a controversial bill that outlines many cybercrimes. It specifically includes cyberstalking and prohibits individuals from attempting to coerce or threaten others through online communications. The penalties are severe if the charges are proven to be correct and can include five years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million rupees.

Offenses can be reported to the authorities who can then trace the sender’s internet address for use in prosecution. Though stalking victims have the law on their side, many are too afraid or embarrassed to seek help from authorities, which makes cyberstalking a seriously under-reported crime around the globe. It’s important to know you have the upper-hand in these situations.

Speak Up

Like many other crimes that target women, cyber harassment tends to be severely under-reported. Some victims don’t think the authorities will take their concerns seriously while others are embarrassed and feel responsible for the behavior of the stalker. Many abusers count on this hesitancy and capitalize on it to further the harassment.

In 2016, DRF launched a Cyber Harassment Helpline to support victims of online abuse. The helpline is staffed by experts including an attorney, cybersecurity experts, and a psychologist, all of whom can help victims understand their rights and empower them to make informed choices about how they can move forward.

If you or someone you know is the victim of a cyberstalker, DRF’s confidential helpline is a great resource. Call the toll-free number: 0800-39393 Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m to speak to a staff member about your situation.

Protect Yourself

When it comes to cyberstalking, it can be very difficult to monitor all of the information available online about yourself. However, there are some preventative measures you can take to make it more difficult for someone to follow you online.

Proxy Software Service

Using a proxy software service turns your internet activity anonymous, making it much more difficult for anyone to track your browsing history or access your personal data online. Using a service such as this is especially important if you ever access the internet using a public or unsecured WiFi connection. Accessing the internet via any unsecured connection makes your information much more vulnerable to tracking and theft by a third party who is interested in following you.

Privacy Settings

If you use social media, it’s important to be aware of exactly how much information you’re sharing and with whom you’re sharing it. Check the privacy settings on your accounts regularly and be sure you know everyone who is getting updates about your page. You should also check your mobile phone privacy settings to ensure you aren’t sharing your geographic location through any apps or other services without realizing it. More closely restricting privacy settings is an easy way to ensure a cyberstalker is locked out of many avenues of information.

Google Alert

Set a Google Alert with your name to let you know if anyone else is posting information about you online. If someone is posting private information about you publicly, this service will alert you quickly so that you can get it removed as soon as possible. Staying aware of what information about yourself is public is key to reducing cyberstalking threats.

If you or someone you know is being stalked or threatened on- or offline, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. Stalking is the result of obsessive behavior, and you are in no way responsible for the actions of anyone stalking you.


This is a guest post by Sandra - a freelance writer. Her areas of expertise include cybersecurity, technology and women’s rights. She is a frequent contributor to The Right Side of Truth.