Archives for April 2017

April 29, 2017 - Comments Off on Facebook Releases Government Transparency Report and it’s Worrying

Facebook Releases Government Transparency Report and it’s Worrying

Facebook recently released its annual Government Request Reports (GRR) for the period covering July 2016 - December 2016, as part of its ongoing public objective to provide transparency. GRRs are released by Facebook every six months, and lists the number of requests for content removal, restriction, user data, and any other requests made by governments worldwide. The GRRs also list if requests have been made - and acceded to by the company - according to specific regional or national legislation.  DRF has written about Facebook’s Government Request Reports, and requests made on the grounds of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, in the past.  

The July - December 2016 GRR for Pakistan indicates that 1,002 total requests were made by the government; 1,431 requests related to users/accounts were made, with 67.56% of the requests resulting in “Some Data” being “Produced”.


As DRF wrote in 2015,

In the wake of Snowden, it has become important for large tech corporations to be transparent about their interactions with governments ie requests to either access or remove data from particular social media or websites. Facebook and Google have in recent years released transparency reports that announce the number of data removal/access requests by governments.

The Snowden leaks were in 2013. Since then, however, the number of requests by the government of Pakistan has shown to have increased dramatically - from 35 total requests and data requests for 47 users/accounts in January - June 2013, to 1,002 and 1,431 respectively in 2016.

The ongoing rise in requests continues a troubling trend, and should give netizens cause for concern. As we have seen over the past couple of years, the government of Pakistan continues to attempt to control what its citizens can read, see, hear and talk about online, to close off what is otherwise an open platform. Given the accelerated discourse and action by the government in regards to blasphemy and national security, one can only expect these figures to rise even higher in 2017.

The GRR also mentions the number of requests to preserve the user data until the legal procedures are over. According to the GRR, Facebook received 442 preservation requests related to 677 users/accounts. However, 6 requests were made to restrict content to be accessed by Pakistani users. The report mentions that,Based on legal requests from the Pakistan Telecom Authority and Federal Investigation Agency, we restricted access to items that were alleged to violate local laws prohibiting blasphemy and condemnation of the country's independence.” Content Restriction Requests have been decreased from 25 since January - June 2016.

The GRR also points out that Facebook services in Pakistan were disrupted due to the internet shutdown coincided with the observance of Chehlum in November 2016.

In the light of the content removal on and by Facebook, either requested by the Government of Pakistan or as per the site’s Community Guidelines, this report raises certain questions:

What legislation is the government used to request content take-downs and access to user data? When content is being flagged under “Condemnation of the country’s independence”, what is this content, and how is it being defined as such?

In March 2017, Facebook agreed to send a delegation to Pakistan to examine the viability of controlling blasphemous content as per the request of the government. According to a statement by the Interior Ministry:

“The administration of Facebook has agreed to send its delegation to Pakistan to address the concerns of the government. The Facebook in a letter has informed the government that it was ready to solve the matter through dialogue and consultation and was aware of the stance of Pakistan on the blasphemous content. The Facebook has also appointed a focal person for coordination with the PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority)”.

This development was made public just a week after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suggested the blasphemous content and hate material to be blocked on social media. The court, in the same hearing, noted that; “This matter requires immediate attention otherwise patience of the followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) may run out.” On March 27, the Interior Ministry informed the IHC of the successful blocking of 85% of blasphemous content by Facebook.

This is not the first time that the government of Pakistan has requested that material be taken down or have access blocked to content online in its entirety in an attempt to restrict or control questionable material. In May 2010, Facebook was blocked in Pakistan in response to public outrage concerning “Draw Muhammad (PBUH) Day.” The ban, however, was lifted after two weeks after the blasphemous content was restricted to be accessed in Pakistan by the company. YouTube was banned for almost 3 years - from September 2012 to January 2016 - after the blasphemous video “Innocence of Muslims” was uploaded on the largest video sharing site. These websites were blocked on the orders of the court over charges of sacrilegious material.

It is important to note that after the passage of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the authorities have been granted sweeping powers over the online content, and the rise in the content requests to Facebook is just one example of it.

Author: Hija Kamran

April 23, 2017 - Comments Off on France’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

France’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

On April 19th, 2017, a worldwide consortium of NGOs filed legal submissions against the "Right to be Forgotten" ruling by France's data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”). "Right to be Forgotten" permits individuals or the government to order data repositories and Internet service providers to destroy any and all parts of an individual's digital trail.

Although justified as necessary for the protection of minors and to allow victims of cyber harassment to remove content posted about them online, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have come under fire for being vaguely defined. In particular, CNIL's ruling crossing its own jurisdiction--applying not only to Google France but the search engine's worldwide database of links and across all its services. In an ironic twist, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have also been invoked to order Google to remove news about Right to be Forgotten laws. This gives a glimpse into how this law facilitates censorship, and why the lack of limits on its applicability put Internet users around the world at risk.

"Right to be Forgotten" deals a severe blow to the Right to Information: you cannot demand information that no longer exists. Besides gagging free speech, it also leaves with the problem of transparency. The Internet plays a vital role in strengthening democracies and increasing public officials' transparency & accountability to their own people; how will this be impacted when politicians and other public officials can demand removal of any content that shows them in a negative light? What is the legal status of political criticism, whistleblowing, and investigative journalism--permitted unless the person under investigation decides otherwise? The democratic process depends upon the ability of people to make an informed choice which is not possible without unfettered access to information.

Another important aspect to consider is the potential impact on legal proceedings in criminal cases: as digital evidence becomes increasingly accepted in court, how will human rights violators be charged when they can erase all evidence of their crimes at the click of a button?

"Right to Be Forgotten" laws as currently defined do not offer sufficient protection against such abuse, and CNIL sets a troubling precedent of applying domestic laws globally. Following this, it is entirely possible for governments to impose censorship across borders. Digital Rights Foundation is committed to fighting for an individual's autonomy over their digital lives, balanced with the best interests of digital communities as a whole. The Internet does not fall under the sole authority of any individual, organization, or country. The ability to shape how and what information appears on it is an immense power. Consolidating it into the hands of a sole entity, particularly without vital safeguards against misuse, is a threat to all.


April 19, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation and 17 other expert non-governmental organisations from across the world have filed legal submissions before France’s highest court, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), raising serious concerns about a ruling of France’s data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”), on the “right to be forgotten".

In 2014, CNIL ordered Google to remove 21 links from the results of an internet search on the name of a French citizen who claims a “right to be forgotten.”  Google initially removed the links from its French search site ( and other European search sites (such as, but CNIL demanded it go further.  Google then blocked the links from results returned to European users, even when using Google’s non-European sites, including CNIL however demands that when it orders content to be “forgotten” from search results, this decision must be given effect worldwide, meaning that the results must be made unavailable to all users internationally, regardless of where they are accessing internet search engines.  CNIL has also imposed a huge fine on Google, of €100,000.

The 18 NGOs who have filed legal submissions with the Council of State have grave concerns about CNIL’s approach and its implications for human rights worldwide.  They all specialise in the defence of human rights, the protection of online freedom of expression, and in increasing access to information technology around the world.  The NGOs, and the many people across the world whose rights they protect, rely on freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas and information online in order to carry out their important work in protecting human rights internationally. CNIL has unilaterally imposed draconian restrictions on free expression upon all organisations and individuals who use the internet around the world, even imposing a “right to be forgotten” upon countries which do not recognise this principle.  The CNIL ruling causes particularly serious damage to human rights protection in the developing world.

The legal submissions were drafted by freedom of expression experts Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jude Bunting, barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, London, and avocat Thomas Haas, Paris, who acts for the NGOs and filed the submissions with the Council of State.  The NGOs were also assisted by Jennifer Robinson, a pupil barrister with expertise in media law.  A press release from the 18 NGOs is available here.

The importance of the CNIL ruling in 2014, and of the upcoming appeal before the Council of State, has been highlighted by Associate Tenant Nani Jansen Reventlow, an expert on freedom of expression who is currently a Fellow at the Berkman Centre, Harvard University.  She has recently written about the case in the Washington Post: ‘A French court case against Google could threaten global speech rights’ (available here) and for the Council on Foreign Relations Net Politics blog: 'The French court case that threatens to bring the "Right to be Forgotten" everywhere' (available here).

The decision of the Council of State on Google’s appeal is expected later this year.

April 11, 2017 - Comments Off on Cyber Harassment Helpline Completes Its Four Months of Operation

Cyber Harassment Helpline Completes Its Four Months of Operation

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is launching a report for the first four months of operation for its Cyber Harassment Helpline.

The Cyber Harassment Helpline is Pakistan’s first dedicated helpline addressing issues of online abuse and violence providing a free, safe, gender-sensitive and confidential service. The Helpline Support Staff gives legal advice, digital security support and psychological counselling to victims of online harassment. The Helpline was launched on December 1, 2016. The toll free number [0800-39393] is available to people looking for help between 9am till 5pm, Monday to Friday. The Support Staff can also be contacted via email at  

According to our findings in the first four months of its operation the helpline received 513 individual complaints. The total number of calls were 535, with 406 of them being individual cases. 62% of the calls were made by women, whereas 37% of the callers were men. The platform where people face the most harassment was found to be Facebook and most of the complaints were regarding fake profiles, non consensual use of information, blackmailing, unsolicited messages and hacked accounts or devices. Majority of the cases received by the Helpline were from Punjab (41.3%) whereas 23.90% individuals did not disclose their location. The helpline also got calls from Sindh (17.8%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (4.70%), Balochistan (1.30%), Azad  Kashmir (0.70%), Federal Territory (10.10%) and outside Pakistan (0.20%).

After assessing the overwhelming number of cases, the report has identified some recommendations for law enforcement agencies and the government. DRF has recognized the need for further improvement within the National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C) of the FIA. The NR3C is understaffed with limited resources which is why there are delays in registration and investigation of cases pertaining to cyber harassment. We also propose gender-sensitisation training for FIA’s staff, along with recruitment of female Investigative Officers (IOs). The FIA’s National Response Centers for Cyber Crime needs to be expanded to more cities, as they are currently limited to major cities of Pakistan, which restricts the accessibility to justice and is a deterrent to reporting for many women living in smaller cities or remote locations.

For more information on the helpline, write us an email at


April 10, 2017 - Comments Off on Cyber Harassment: How Real is it for A Survivor’s Mental Health?

Cyber Harassment: How Real is it for A Survivor’s Mental Health?

Most of the times, online harassment is dismissed because it doesn’t happen in the physical space, in the “real” world. But what we fail to understand is that digital or cyber space is a part of the real world now and there are no boundaries anymore. It is commonly believed in Pakistan that physical harassment has a long term effect on a person’s mental health but the far reaching effect of online harassment has not been evaluated yet.

Where cyberspace and social media, the virtual world, is a wonderful place to connect with people, sharing updates and pictures online, it also makes it easier for perpetrators to access people and harass them. Anything happening in the digital world materializes in the physical world as well, and is as ‘real’ as our physical surroundings. Thus, threat, abuse, blackmail or harassment in the digital world has the potential of having a debilitating impact on individuals.

The problem with digital harassment is that it never goes away. Pictures, people’s comments never go away. The controversies never go away. In the physical space, there is a chance of outgrowing or getting away from the harasser but with online harassment, this isn’t the case. The only option people are left with is to withdraw from social space or be anonymous - without identity.

Unfortunately, while the impact of physical harassment is documented but the effect of online harassment has not been looked into in Pakistan. Ironically, Pakistan, according to World Bank Statistics, is one of the countries with highest growth rate in internet users in SAARC region but with least work done on the impact and effects of online bullying and harassment.

Since it’s impossible to completely leave digital spaces, even if you change your identity, your previous posts and pictures will always be out there.This inability to escape, and not knowing whom to contact for help when being cyber stalked or harassed, distresses the victim.

In the beginning, this distress manifests as denial when the threat is not perceived as imminent or troublesome. This changes into confusion and self doubt when the threat materializes but is still difficult to believe that it is happening to them. Subsequently, self-blame along with guilt and frustration emerges, where victims start blaming themselves for its occurrence because they think they responded back to a meaningless text or talked to a certain person or willingly became friends with a stranger.

Even more troubling, when it comes to seeking support, oftentimes friends and family members they reach out to reinforce their thinking that they did, in fact, bring it upon themselves. The constant guilt causes depression and anxiety. They face difficulty concentrating and attending to things at home /school/workplace. Constant rumination increases distress and symptoms of depression that lead to isolation, withdrawal, self-harm and in some cases suicidal ideation.

The sense of being trapped, having brought this upon themselves, is particularly acute in the case of women. Sometimes, the perceived shame brought onto the family forces them to contemplate suicide, believing that this would end the problem, yet the problem persists. Or at times their  families chose death for them as was the case with Qandeel Baloch who was harassed, victimized and murdered. She was not the only one who suffered from online harassment that presented itself in her physical world and killed her, there are many just like her suffering in silence or committing suicide because no help is available to them. Same perpetrators, different victims and this cycle continues.

An all too familiar case is of Naila Rind, a girl who committed suicide after allegedly being blackmailed. But does one commit suicide on a whim? No, it takes a certain level of distress that forces one to believe that all the problems would end with their death, their family would be better off without them and this thinking incites them to commit suicide. Yet, many who choose to live with “soiled” reputation and constant guilt start to become insecure in their relationships  and remain emotionally isolated. It becomes very difficult for them to open up or trust anyone in their later life.

The only way to counter this is by educating people that online harassment is real. The way forward is to educate and change mind-sets, that harassment against anyone, of either gender, community, religion, is unacceptable. With this awareness, it becomes pertinent that one does not blame and shame the victims of online harassment, and instead empathise and have a compassionate perspective towards those being harassed or bullied.

Thus, it is imperative to create safe support systems for people who are going through it to break that cycle of emotional and social isolation that puts victims at the brink of mental illness. In doing so, victims stand a better chance when it comes to countering harassment and fighting off perpetrators of harassment.

Digital Rights Foundation established Pakistan's first Cyber Harassment Helpline to help the victims and survivors of online harassment in seeking help and to ensure that they get the support they need in their ordeal. The helpline can be reached at the toll-free number 0800-39393 from Monday to Friday at 9 am to 5 pm. The helpline support staff can also be reached at The services of the helpline are free-of-cost and the queries are dealt in complete confidentiality.

Author: Jannat Fazal

April 05, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF Submits Reponses for the UN Secretary-General Report on the Safety of Journalists

DRF Submits Reponses for the UN Secretary-General Report on the Safety of Journalists

Digital Rights Foundation made its submission to the UN Secretary General report on the safety of journalists on the issue of impunity. In the responses, DRF pointed out that female journalists are susceptible to discrimination and gender-based obstacles both from within their professional spaces and outside it. Female journalists in Pakistan face a double-bind because of their gender: at one level they face the same level of threats and surveillance that journalists face in Pakistan (the fourth most dangerous country for journalist according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)), and the secondly the gender-specific obstacles stemming from being a female journalist in Pakistan. Their reporting on so-called sensitive topics such as civil-military relationships, blasphemy laws, and stories contradicting the state narrative make them more susceptible to state and social surveillance.

Within Pakistan, the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 protects female journalists from discrimination and harassment within the workplace. The impact of this law is not as clear-cut. Journalists who have the lodged sexual harassment complaints within media houses have faced a backlash at times.

In terms of international humanitarian law violations, journalists are quite susceptible to conflict driven violence and attacks from terrorists, sectarian groups and armed operations. Many journalists have lost their lives while covering events that have been attacked. Compensation in these cases takes place as per labour and social security laws. There have been several proposal for the protection and welfare of journalists but nothing concrete has been passed.

Through our research “Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan”, we have learnt that media houses are far from perfect when it comes to addressing rampant sexism within the organization. The respondents in our research told us that these organizations are not equipped to support women when they file cases of sexual harassment. Furthermore, female journalists posit that line managers and editors tend not to take online abuse and digital surveillance as seriously, especially when it hasn’t translated into physical threats. This puts female journalists at a huge disadvantage because they are more likely to receive physiological threats and surveillance.

Digital Rights Foundation conducts workshops and training sessions for female journalists. Often times digital security and self care is a neglected aspect of security for journalists and a facet that is often ignored in mainstream discussions. For this reason DRF sees itself as addressing a real gap in terms of safety of journalists. These sessions are being held in conjunction with press clubs to deliver basic anti-harassment and digital security training to reporters, editors and web-based journalists. A digital security handbook (living document) for journalists has also been developed as part of our training program with basic security guidelines and tips for female journalists.

April 05, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF’s Submission to UN Human Rights Commission For The Report To Bridge Gender Digital Divide

DRF’s Submission to UN Human Rights Commission For The Report To Bridge Gender Digital Divide

Digital Rights Foundation submitted responses to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare a report on ways to bridge gender digital divide from a human rights perspective. In its submission, DRF identified the dire need to address the digital divide promoted by gender, and that women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of their position in society, workplace and even in relation to their own families with the same wage bracket. For these reasons barrier to digital technologies and digital life are more enhanced for women.

Political reasons also act as barriers to access to digital technologies. For instance, the internet has been shut down in FATA for security reasons, as well as to silence political dissent. While this might seem like gender-neutral factor, our research has found that women are more impacted by such politically motivated shutdowns given that they cannot travel to internet cafes that have sprung up in the region.

Digital Rights Foundation has also been critical of applications geared towards women. Several smart-phone applications are emerging that are aimed specifically at women, both by the state and the private sector, and there is a need to critically analyse the claims that these apps make regarding increased security for women. Furthermore, as space opens up in Pakistan for web-based delivery of services, DRF is engaging in research that aims to highlight the privacy violations as well the impact on the women who use these services. This is precisely why DRF is working towards privacy and data protection legislation that will ensure more rights for users and protect vulnerable groups, such as women, from surveillance and discrimination.

The recommendations that DRF proposed to bridge digital gender divide emphasized on the importance to make the industry stakeholders aware of their responsibility to ensure better privacy policies when it comes to the personal data of users. Data breaches and violations of privacy can have serious consequences for women. In Pakistan, with the absence of data protection laws and obligations, it is even more important to engage with the industry and communicate their responsibility in protecting users’ data and right to privacy.

The tech community should take measures to ensure the promotion of more women to leadership positions and to have more representation from women and marginalized communities. This representation is important because the presence of women will mean more gender-sensitive policies and a better understanding of the issues that women face. it is important to ensure that the companies working towards gender issues and on gender empowerment engage with these themes meaningfully rather than superficial efforts or as marketing ploys. Many tech companies own social media platforms which are the primary site of online harassment, bullying, blackmail and violence. These companies need to have contextually-sensitive policies for protecting the privacy, dignity and personal integrity of women in online spaces. Tech companies also need to ensure that efforts to ensure accessibility should be done in the principle of net neutrality and the principle of free access should be upheld in efforts to improve coverage and accessibility.

April 04, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation Submits Universal Periodic Review 2017 Report for Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation Submits Universal Periodic Review 2017 Report for Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation made a submission for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Pakistan 2017 on the topic of “Gender Rights in Pakistan: Online violence, Free Speech and Access to Information”. The aim of this submission was to advocate for the digital-specific rights for the citizens of Pakistan. The report incorporated the issues of gendered digital violence, digital rights, freedom of expression (FOE), privacy, violence against women and surveillance.

The report highlighted the issues of digital rights and violence with regards to women and sexual minorities, including the right to speech in online spaces, right to privacy, freedom from digital surveillance, electronic violence against women (eVAW), and access to digital technologies and spaces. The submission refers to the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular Freedom of Expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice”.

The report addresses the need to apply a gendered perspective to digital rights, and recommendations need to be injected into the UPR process that specifically address eVAW and the digital gender divide. It outlines the major incidents and advancements around access to digital technology, including the lowest internet usage density in Pakistan, the suspension of telecom and internet services, and the gender gap in usage and ownership of mobile phones in Pakistan. It also highlights that women, especially women journalists, women human rights defenders and activists, experience internet different from men. They are denied access to spaces due to gender disparity, stereotypical and cultural expectations on how women should behave online, cyber harassment, sexualised threats and violence stemming from online activities-impeding women’s right to free speech online, political participation, information and association.

The submission report states that since the last UPR submission process, Pakistan’s situation of free speech has declined both online and offline due to a concerted effort on part of the GOP to regulate online spaces. With the passage of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the government has been granted sweeping powers on the online content. Whereas, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance 2002 allows PEMRA to regulate speech and programming on electronic media. It also mentions the patterns of censorship by the Government of Pakistan on multiple occasions without prior notices and further explanations.

Lastly, the report puts forward the recommendations to ensure the gender based digital rights in Pakistan. These recommendations include campaigns specifically for women to increase digital literacy in rural areas, ensuring affordable and unhindered access to the internet and electronic devices, providing cheaper and subsidized internet access to women along with special discounts to promote the ownership of internet connections among women, amending or repealing legislation that violates Pakistan’s international obligations regarding freedom of expression, setting up dedicated departments for online violence against women in FIA's Cyber Crime Wing (Nr3C) and other law enforcing agencies (LEAs) with increased female staff and properly gender-sensitized officers, legislating data protection law in line with international human rights principles, and awareness campaigns around online harassment, digital security, and the mechanisms in place to address it.

April 04, 2017 - Comments Off on March 2017 at Digital Rights Foundation

March 2017 at Digital Rights Foundation

March 2017 started on a wonderful note for Digital Rights Foundation, with Internet Freedom Festival scheduled in the first week of the month. The activities kept escalating for the team, from Open Government Partnership Consultation event scheduled in the mid of March, to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Submission by DRF, Submission for the report of UN Secretary General on the safety of journalists on the issue of impunity, submission to UN Office of the High Commission of Human Rights on the situation of Digital Gender Divide in Pakistan, RightsCon Summit during the end of the month, Women's Day campaign, and events and seminars conducted and attended by the team throughout the month.

Here's a compilation of all that kept us busy this past month.

Internet Freedom Festival, 2017


Digital Rights Foundation participated in the Internet Freedom Festival (2017) held from March 6th to March 10th in Valencia, Spain. The event was a convergence of internet freedom activists from around the world bringing together their varied experiences and perspectives.

DRF hosted several panels at the event, ranging from topics such as “Surveillance from the Margins: Different Experiences of Surveillance”, online harassment with “Taking Matters into Our Hands: Addressing Online Harassment” to “Data protection law and is different manifestations”.

Here are the details of the sessions hosted by DRF at IFF.

Technology in Elections Panel

DRF participated in an event hosted by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) on March 22, 2017 in Islamabad. The panel discussion was a mix of members from civil society, elections experts and Parliamentarians: hosted by Hassan Nasir Mirbahar of DRI and the speakers were Vladimir Pran (Elections Expert, DRI), Dr. Fouzia Hameed (MNA, MQM), Rashid Chaudry (FAFEN), Shabbir Ahmed Director (IFES), Naeema Kishwar Khan (JUI-F) and Shmyla Khan representing Digital Rights Foundation.

Technology in Elections panel

The discussion delved into the issues of technology in the electoral process; the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), biometric verification systems and a  results management system through the prism of transparency, efficiency, cyber security and voter confidentiality.

RightsCon Summit, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation hosted four sessions at the RightsCon Summit 2017 held from March 29th to March 31st (and Day 0 on March 28th) in Brussels, Belgium. The conference is the world's leading event dedicated towards digital rights and brings together digital rights activists, journalists, policy makers, corporate personnel to discuss the future of the internet.


DRF hosted panels ranging from topics such as “Surveillance and Privacy from the Margins”, online harassment with “Taking Matters into Our Hands: Addressing Online Harassment” and "Harassment Goes Deadly: the Global North vs Global South", and the future of the open internet with “Net Neutrality and its Future in the Developing World".

Here's a detailed post on what all was said and done at RightsCon.

International Contributions by DRF

This month was also a productive one in terms of DRF’s international contributions. Digital Rights Foundation has made submissions to the UNSG report on the Safety of Journalists, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report on ways to bridge Digital Gender Divide (DGD) from a human rights perspective and the Universal Periodic Review for Pakistan 2017 on the topic of “Gender rights in Pakistan: Online violence, free speech and access to information”. We look forward to having these submissions make their mark in the subsequent reports.

Here are the dedicated blog posts on each submission:
UPR Submission | Submission to OHCHR to Bridge DGD |
Submission to UNSG on the Safety of Journalists

Open Government Partnership Workshop: Lahore

OGP Logo

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) Consultation was held in Lahore on March 15, 2017. The event was hosted by Open Society Foundations, Digital Rights Foundation, Punjab Information Commission and Punjab Lok Sujag. The event was a multi-stakeholder initiative that brought together members of civil society, the business community and government together on issues of open government, transparency and accountability.

The discussion revolved around the themes of fiscal transparency, access to information, citizen engagement/public service delivery, use of digital, access to justice, strengthening accountability (government integrity/anti-corruption/asset disclosure) and improving business environment. The discussion urged the government towards more proactive disclosure of information, effective accountability mechanisms and more transparent budgeting.

OGP Photo
Speakers at the event were Nighat Dad (Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation), Shreya Basu (Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Asia Pacific, Open Government Partnership) and Natalia Tariq (Program Officer, Open Society Foundation, Pakistan).

Women's Day, 2017


International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world on March 8th. This year, on account of this day DRF started a social media campaign with the hashtag #BeingAWomanMeans. Women from across Pakistan participated in the campaign and held out charts expressing what it meant for them to be a woman. Team DRF visited Emporium Mall Lahore to ask women to participate in the campaign and start a conversation on the many and diverse aspects that they believe means to be a woman. The campaign also gained traction online and created quite the buzz.

Session on Online Harassment at NED University

Hija 2

On March 16, Hija Kamran represented Digital Rights Foundation at a seminar on Online Harassment conducted by NED University's Humanities department in Karachi. During the session, Hija talked to the students about online violence and many effects of the experience on the survivor/victim, including social, psychological, and emotional impact. She also talked about the Cyber Harassment Helpline that DRF launched in 2016; the need for the collective efforts towards countering online harassment, what are the mechanisms of reporting cyber harassment to LEAs, the laws around cybercrimes in Pakistan, and other importing factors to deal with the said harassment.

Seminar on Online Violence at Shirkat Gah, Lahore

On March 22nd, Shirkat Gah - Women’s Resource Center hosted a seminar on Online Violence and Engendering Digital Equality by International Human Rights Lawyer Ms Zarizana Abdul Aziz. DRF was the respondent at the event. Zarizana discussed the aspect of violence against women in detail and talked about the implications of the online world in the offline life. She covered topics like freedom of expression of women, consent and privacy.  The audience was very interactive and there were a lot of discussions regarding different privacy and consent related issues the members had personally faced.

Shirkat Gah

Fatima A. Athar and Jannat Fazal represented DRF and talked about the stigma surrounding women’s privacy issues, and discussed how and why it is so difficult for women to make their voices heard when it comes to violence against them.  They talked about the DRF helpline and various practices that need to be adopted in routine life to safeguard from violence against women in online and offline spaces and privacy concerns.

 Islamabad High Court case to block blasphemous content online


The Islamabad High Court has taken up a case regarding anti-Islamic material in online spaces by directing the Interior Minister, Ministry of Information Technology and Federal Investigation Authorities to take measures against such speech. The IHC ordered the Interior Ministry that if need be the entire social media should be blocked and strong action must be taken against anyone who is committing these crimes. The bench stated that due to these blasphemous posts being present online there are likely to be more cases like Mumtaz Qadri in which vigilantes take laws into their own hands. This has sparked a larger legal debate regarding social media websites and the responsibilities of these companies. As an extension of this, the government has threatened to block all social media websites if they don’t respond. Facebook has agreed to send a team to Pakistan to consult with the government--raising concerns regarding online speech.

The FIA has become quite active as well, it currently running television ads regarding the limits of free speech and three people have been arrested under charges of blasphemous content on the internet.



Censorship of electronic media was also a highlight this month. PEMRA has also been quite active around censorship of content on electronic media. DAWN TV’s program “Zara Hut Kay” was taken off air for three days for comments against a sitting judge at the IHC. The morning show GEO Pakistan has been suspended for five days for broadcasting “indecent content”. Furthermore, HUM TV was fined been fined Rs. 1 million for airing the episode by the title of “Chew Gum” for its drama series “Kitni Girhein Baqi Hein”.

April 04, 2017 - Comments Off on Yet Another Year at RightsCon, and It Was Big!

Yet Another Year at RightsCon, and It Was Big!

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) was at RightsCon - the world leading 3-day event to discuss the future of the internet - organised by Access Now from March 29 to March 31, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. During the event, DRF hosted four sessions that discussed different issues relating to the safe and fair access to the internet. As mentioned here, the sessions reflected on what all DRF had been doing the past whole year.

On March 28, Nighat Dad participated in the panel discussion at EU Parliament titled "Tech and Foreign Policy - Bridging the Gap: Focus on Digital Development" on Day 0 of Rights Con 2017. The discussion was live-streamed here.

The panel was moderated by Marietje Schaake (Member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands). The panelists were Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan, Time Next Generation Leader), Linda Corugedo Steneberg (DG Connect, European Commission) and Mitchel Baker (Mozilla, Internet Hall of Fame).

Nighat EU Parliament

The panel sought to discuss the direction of digital development with reference to principles of human rights, equality and net neutrality. The panelists also discussed the role of the European Union in encouraging digital development worldwide.

Nighat Dad spoke about the need to link digital rights to economic and trade incentives such as the GSP+ and other initiatives by monitoring human rights violations. Nighat also spoke about the shrinking digital spaces for dissent and activism in Pakistan, and the world in general. Talking about the global trends, she referred to the US laptop ban as a violation of digital rights stating that "it is not only a laptop ban, it's a Muslim laptop ban".

Nighat EU Parliament 2

Nighat shed light on extra-judicial measures to silence voices online: "this not self-censorship, it is forced censorship". She talked about the "draconian" cyber crime act passed in August 2016 and the effect that it has for journalism and free speech.

Nighat also talked about the need for social media companies to be transparent in their dealings with governments, urging them to be accountable to their users.

The first session titled “Taking Matters into Our Hands: Addressing Online Harassment Through [Tools]” took place on March 29, 2017. The panel discussed the different tools and strategies developed in different contexts to address online harassment. The panel was moderated by Wafa Ben Hassine - the Policy Analyst at Access Now, and the speakers included Nighat Dad - the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, Elsa Saade - Human Rights Officer at Gulf Human Rights Center in Beirut, Gulsin Harman from, and Meg Hood - Rapid Response Coordinator for the Civil Society Centre for Digital Resilience.

During the session, Nighat Dad shared the tools and activities that Digital Rights Foundation has been introducing and implementing in Pakistan, including Pakistan’s first Cyber Harassment Helpline. Nighat emphasized on the fact that even though 60% of our callers are women, but the other 30% are men which depicts that online harassment affects everyone regardless of their gender identity.

Wafa Ben Hassine added that tools alone can’t address the issue of online harassment, but talking to people on ground can help in identifying where the problem lies.

Elsa Saade pointed out that while developing new tools would be a great approach, but it’s important to analyse why the already existing tools around addressing online harassment are failing.


Gulsin Harman shared that women journalists in Turkey face online harassment on a daily basis, and when they decide to report the harassment, they get harassed by the law enforcing agents themselves. While the situation isn’t different in Pakistan, this attitude and lack of gender sensitisation among the LEAs convince women to not speak about their experiences of online harassment.

Online harassment leaves a strong impact on the mental health of victim/survivor who experiences it, and the lack of awareness around the issue among people makes the experience more critical. Hija Kamran of Digital Rights Foundation adds that while access to the internet and technology is necessary, awareness around the informed use of that technology becomes crucial too.

The second session that Digital Rights Foundation was about an issue that’s not very debated in the context of Pakistan, but holds a great importance towards the access to the internet. The session titled “Net Neutrality and its Future in the Developing World” was taken place on March 30, 2017. The panel was moderated by Raman Jit Singh Chima - Policy Director at Access Now, and the speakers included Gbenga Sesan - Executive Director at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Agustin Reyna - Senior Legal Officer at BEUC, Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda - Co-Founders of Internet Freedom Foundation India, Serene Lim - APC Impact Coordinator for Malaysia, and Nighat Dad - Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation.

NN Panel Poster


The panelists discussed the many aspects of Net Neutrality and why is it important to talk about it.

Apar Gupta, who is the volunteering founder of the remarkable campaign #savetheinternet in India and the Co-Founder of Internet Freedom Foundation said that Net Neutrality should not be taken as a separate issue and should not be left for another time, but instead it should be discussed as part of the larger debate.

Hija Kamran of Digital Rights Foundation adds that open access to the internet is a human right and it should be granted to everyone in a fair and open form without prioritising one content over the other.

Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda also added that the Government of India received 1.2 million responses on their Net Neutrality public consultation, which also included a love letter. The government published all those responses for the public to access.

Gbenga Sesan added that the government needs to be convinced that infrastructure isn’t just about building the roads but also about technological access too.

When asked how the concept of Net Neutrality can be communicated with those who are not on the internet but have access to the technology, Agustin Reyna responded that you need to communicate in their own language, the right language for them to understand better.


Raman Jit Singh Chima asks the important question: Do people need a triggering event to safeguard the rights like Net Neutrality considering that internet is an open platform and it should be provided to all without paid prioritisation of content.

Surveillance Panel Poster

The third session hosted by Digital Rights Foundation revolved around discussing Surveillance and Privacy from the Margins. The session took place on March 30, 2017. It was moderated by Jessica Dheere, the co-founder and co-director of SMEX, and the panelists included Nighat Dad, David Kaye - UNSR on Freedom of Expression, Bruce Schneier - world renowned cryptographer, Chinmayi Arun - Research Director at National Law University Delhi India, Courtney Radsch - Advocacy Director at Committee to Protect Journalists, and Carolina Botero - Director at Karisma Foundation.


The panel aimed at discussing the gendered nature of surveillance and intended to acknowledge that the experience of surveillance is not uniform, i.e. it depends on the identity of the person being surveilled. Through this panel we want to understand the particular kinds of surveillance experienced by women and the sexualized and gendered ways in which it manifests itself when applied to women's bodies.

The panel also discussed privacy as security and how data protection and privacy laws need to be strengthened and how a breach of privacy can have dire consequences for individuals.


Jessica Dheere kick-started the panel by asking some very important questions about how surveillance changes based on the power dynamics and how does it affect the people of colour and minorities in any society?

Courtney Radsch added the experience from journalist's’ perspective, saying that it leads to self-censorship.

She also discussed the increased surveillance on US border that violates people’s right to privacy.

Nighat Dad added the perspective of Surveillance and Privacy in the context Pakistan and used Qandeel Baloch - the slain social media celebrity - example that her murder was incited after her privacy was violated by the mainstream and social media.

She also added that the increased surveillance is promoted by the easy availability of surveillance technology that widespread the practice.

Bruce Shneier - Image Courtesy @AToker

Bruce Schneier discussed the technical aspects of surveillance and said that it’s not easy to track the small surveillance technologies. He also added that power dynamics play a major role in the context of surveillance and that it often gets lost in the discussions.

Bruce also added that surveillance is almost unavoidable and is used as a weapon. He also emphasized that your mobile phone and camera is someone else tracking device. He added that it should also be viewed from the perspective of refugees and minorities.

Whereas, David Kaye added that there are different kinds of surveillance like state surveillance, non-state surveillance, social surveillance, and others, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid targeted surveillance.


David Kaye - Image Courtesy @AToker

He emphasized on the fact that the current law and order situation of the world reduces people’s right to privacy and restricts their anonymity. He also added that surveillance is the issue of the masses and not just of targeted groups.

Kaye urges that surveillance will continue but what’s important is that people keep pushing governments to justify it on human rights grounds. He furthered his talk by adding that journalists, women, LGBT community are most harmed by surveillance.

Harassment Goes Deadly Panel Poster

The fourth and last panel of Digital Rights Foundation at RightsCon talked about online harassment in the global north vs global south. The panel titled “Harassment Goes Deadly: the Global North vs Global South” took place on March 31, 2017. The panel was moderated by Bishakha Datta - Co-Founder of Point of View India, and the panelists included Hera Hussain - Co-Founder of Chayn Labs, Nanjira Sambuli - Digital Equality Advocacy Manager for World Wide Web Foundation, Emily May - Co-Founder and Executive Director at HollaBack, Japleen Pasricha - Founder of Feminism in India, Susan Benesch - Project Director at Dangerous Speech Project, and Nighat Dad - Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation.

The panel was live streamed by Chayn Labs on their Facebook page and it aimed at discussing online violence which is usually seen as a problem for the so-called “backward societies” around the world. The narrative goes that women and vulnerable communities in the third world are particularly susceptible to honour and gender-based crimes. High profile cases of online harassment leading to violence in offline spaces is seen as a reflection of an entire culture in the Global South, whereas it is couched in less cultural and societal terms in the North. The fact of the matter is that online violence against women is a global and universal problem.


This panel discussed the realities of online violence which are as serious a problem in the Global North as they are in the Global South.

Bishakha Datta started the discussion with the introduction of the panel followed by the talk by Hera Hussain. According to Hera, Chayn is operating in 12 countries, a lot changes with geography but online harassment is common everywhere. She added that women are particularly vulnerable on social media to the point that they often end up making multiple profile. n Pakistan, women get killed for getting harassed online.

Because Hera works in multiple societies both from global north and global south, she added that the only difference in experiences of online harassment in the north vs south is that the people in the developed part of the world are more aware and know how to react to a certain situation.

Japleen Pasricha did a research on online violence in 2016, where she interviewed around 500 women in India. According to her, online violence isn’t just receiving photos of penis in your inbox or unsolicited content. In fact online violence is also getting trolled for days which often results in the victim/survivor leaving the social media sphere for days.

Japleen says that she uses the word ‘violence’ because online harassment is a form of violence where the victim or the survivor experiences a huge level of emotional and psychological stress that can’t be explained by any other term than ‘violence’.

Nighat Dad furthered the discussion by questioning the inadequate steps taken by the social media companies to counter online harassment. She said that the reason why Digital Rights Foundation started the cyber Harassment Helpline was because there was no help available to the victims of cyber harassment, not on state level, not from the social media companies. And the fact that it leaves a serious impact on the mental health of the victim, steps have to be taken by someone.

Nanjira Sambuli believes that online harassment is a lifelong issue, and what the survivors and those working on countering the issue requires is support from the people around them and in their societies. The solutions around countering online harassment should have sustainable models. She further added that women, in Kenya, are ranked on the basis of how pretty they are rather than how capable or successful they are.

Susan Benesch asks how can the impact of harassment on women be lessen and the cost of harassing a women be increased? She says that there’s not just one kind of harassers. There are people who are dedicated harassers, who wake up in the morning to troll someone online with malicious intent. Then there are people who jump the bandwagon, they see others causing verbal and psychological harm to someone, they start doing it as well.

Bishakha Datta pointed out that in India, women are asked to leave social media if they’re getting harassed online. Leaving social media to avoid online harassment is like asking women to not go out to avoid street harassment. The need is to address the problem and then counter it from the very roots.

This concluded another successful participation of Digital Rights Foundation at RightsCon. With that being said, we hope to take these important discussions forward and into the real world to take solution-led steps towards countering the issues pertaining to digital rights.

Written by Hija Kamran

April 03, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation at Internet Freedom Festival, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation at Internet Freedom Festival, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation participated in and was a partner at the Internet Freedom Festival (2017) held from March 6th to March 10th in Valencia, Spain. The primary agenda of the meeting was “joining forces to fight censorship and surveillance”. The event was a brought together digital rights activists, software developers, digital security trainers, communication professionals, journalists and designers from around the world bringing together their varied experiences and perspectives. The main themes for the event were community, training & best practices, internet freedom: present and future, tools & technology, regions & groups, communications & design and journalism & media.

Panels hosted by Digital Rights Foundation:

Surveillance from the Margins: Different Experiences of Surveillance

The panel discussed the different ways in which surveillance and surveilling agents discriminate on the basis of identity. The discussion revolved around the ways in which surveillance is experienced differently on the basis of gender, race, class, sexuality, ability and political/ideological views.

Nighat Dad (DRF)

Bill Markzak (Citizen Lab)
Thenmozhi Soundararajan (Equality Lab)
Cheekay Cinco (Digital security trainer)
Stephanie Lacambra (EFF)

Taking Matters into Our Hands: Addressing Online Harassment

The panel discussed the different tools and strategies developed in different contexts to address online harassment. The discussion was action and policy-oriented, looking to discuss solutions. DRF talked about the successful launch of its Cyber Harassment Helpline and shared its work around tackling online harassment with an international audience.

Nighat Dad “(DRF)

Shauna Dillavou
Lindsay Beck (OTF)
Meerim Ilyas (UAF)
Meg Hood

Data protection law and its different manifestations

The panel discussed the different kinds of data protection laws all over the world. The discussion was pivoted towards potential legislation in countries where there is a dearth of laws or inadequate legislation.

Nica Dumlao (EngageMedia)

Mohamad Najem (Smex)
Nighat Dad (DRF)
Wafa bin Hussain (AccessNow)
Sarath M S  (SFLC)