Archives for November 2017

November 30, 2017 - Comments Off on Harassment hinders women’s access to public and online spaces

Harassment hinders women’s access to public and online spaces

Working on the Cyber Harassment Helpline for exactly a year now, we’ve come across a range of cases, but there’s one thing that has really stood out as common among most of the cases. Not just one, not even a dozen, but most of the victims of online harassment who have reached out for help have reported that one of their immediate responses was to deactivate their online accounts. It becomes important to note here that the people who sought this solution as temporary relief were mostly, if not all, women. When backing away from online spaces is seen as the obvious and immediate recourse in the face of harassment, whether it’s blackmail, impersonation, stolen and/or edited pictures, and when most of the victims of harassment are women, it tells you not only that there is an imbalance of representation and participation of women in online spaces, but that there is a lack of alternate support and help available for them as well.

The online realm is only a reflection of the physical realm, and it shows. In Pakistan, the presence of women is restricted to specific areas in public and online spaces both. The habits and norms of the physical society are replicated within online spaces, so the abuse that women face is only made easier to spew from behind a device’s screen. Harassment faced online, however, has additional deep repercussions on the presence and identity of women physically. There is a certain element of danger that comes along with the ease of accessibility and broadcast that the internet provides. Perhaps the basic threat behind most forms of online harassment is that what a person considers the most personal and vulnerable aspect of themselves has the potential to be made public - and once information is on the internet, it is difficult to be optimistic about it not spreading like wildfire. The threat of possible public embarrassment and social condemnation leaves the victim with what they consider to be the easiest solution to the problem: backing away from the online world. That threat is sometimes powerful enough for them to partially withdraw from physical spaces such as schools, workplaces, markets and parks, even family gatherings, either taking the decision themselves to do so, or being forced by someone from within their family and/or friends.

But if there’s anything that the recent incidents of women (and men) coming out and speaking up against their harassers and abusers in the West has shown us, it is that there is no shame with being harassed when it is someone else who is committing a crime. Any forced ‘shame’ or ‘embarrassment’ that one is made to feel as a result of facing harassment can be overcome by the support and encouragement of everyone else. Drawing up a circle of support can encourage women to maintain their position in both the online and public spaces, instead of feeling like their only refuge is to wipe away their online identity.

A person who is harassed or abused in online and/or offline spaces often indulges in self-loathing and the guilt obscures their will to communicate with people and in expecting support from them. This self-blame results in more serious consequences stemming from psychological trauma. In such instances, the onus comes on people around the victim to extend support to them, and make use of the available sources of help starting from making sure the victim doesn't blame themselves for the abuse they were subjected to.

Author: Hyra Basit

November 28, 2017 - Comments Off on Why does a Feminist Internet matter?

Why does a Feminist Internet matter?

By the time you reach the middle of this post, users around the world will have generated a total of 466260 tweets, 3764940 Google search queries, and 157644120 emails. That is how much data is generated in one minute on the Internet.

Sit back and think about it for a moment.

The digital age is here, loud and clear. Cyberspace is rapidly expanding and becoming a key part of our lives. Distinctions between offline and online are beginning to blur, both at the individual level as well as the collective. What does this mean for those of us who are still working on the problems of the offline world, its millennia of discrimination and inequality, the many forms of oppression woven into the fabric of our social structures?

Digital spaces are rapidly changing and have the power to amplify our voices far beyond what was ever possible at any point in human history before. It can give a single image the power to catalyze a movement, or put a political candidate out of running with a data leak, or broadcast evidence of war crimes far and wide so their perpetrators cannot escape the moral outcry, or give oppressive regimes all-new tools with which to control and monitor citizens. The Internet is what we make it--which is why we must make it feminist. This must not be a tangential aim for our activism, a “nice to have” that can be dealt with later. If the world is going digital, we must be prepared to occupy digital space.

Based on this, we organized a session around feminist principles of the Internet earlier this year. Borrowing from the framework developed by APC, we outlined 5 key areas of change in the efforts to envision what a feminist Internet would look like. But Pakistan has its own unique circumstances, so we also looked at what a feminist internet means to us.


We believe an Internet that is not accessible is not a feminist Internet. For all its importance, large pockets of the world as well as Pakistan have limited or contested access to the Internet. From socioeconomic factors to conflict and security concerns, the ease of connectivity is not available to many people. As the State shifts to a digitized model of public service, where many key functions are supplemented by or providing online whether through safety apps or vehicle trackers, does this mean these people are lesser citizens? Do they not have the same right to access and use technology?

Movements & Public Participation

The Internet’s most disruptive global impact so far has been its ability to circumvent, subvert, or even dismantle hegemonic models of governance, communication, and cultural dissemination. This is a trait worth protecting, through a struggle for net neutrality and refusal to cede space, as well as enhancing by adopting it as a powerful tool for civil resistance.


Traditional economies are saddled with traditional barriers to access and loopholes for discrimination. A feminist Internet must create and claim space for alternate economies, breaking down barriers to allow historically marginalized groups an equal chance at determining their own economic future and social mobility, and by ensuring that a fair return for digital labor is obtained. In this way, not only is a sustainable feminist economy developed, we successfully provide society a meaningful replacement to exploitative economic structures.


Because expression is pillar of both cultural growth as well as resistance, a feminist Internet must protect expression. We must utilize this medium to spread the message of liberation, while at the same time ensuring that censorship is not able to rebrand itself as false concern for public safety or morality. Moral panic must not be allow to drown out moral imperatives to promote justice.


Agency is a core tenet of struggles that seek the recognition of human rights and dignity for all people. Our understanding of technology and the dehumanizing effect it may sometimes produce must change; we must develop an ethics of compassion not just for those we see before us but also for those we only interact with behind a screen. Digital creator and digital user must not be seen as mutually exclusive--final authority and ownership of our digital lives must rest with our own selves.

Author: Fatima Athar

November 26, 2017 - Comments Off on Fake News in the Time of Censorship

Fake News in the Time of Censorship

In lieu of the ban on social media website across Pakistan, an information vacuum has emerged. While the situation in the country is quite alarming, we must guard against dissemination of misinformation and fake news, which can result in more panic and confusion than necessary.

A notification by the “Ministry of Interior Regulation” has been making the rounds, which states that all digital communications will be monitored by the government and those engaging in political and religious discourse will be subjected to punishment without due process. The message, distributed primarily through WhatsApp, has been reproduced below for reference:

Ministry of Interior Regulation

From tomorrow onwards there are new communication regulations.

All calls are recorded

All phone call recordings saved

WhatsApp is monitored

Twitter is monitored

Facebook is monitored

All social media and forums are monitored

Inform those who do not know.

Your devices are connected to ministry systems.

Take care not to send unnecessary messages

Inform your children, Relatives and friends about this to take care

Don't forward any posts or videos etc., you receive  regarding politics/present situation about Government/PM etc.

Police have put out a notification termed ..Cyber Crime ... and action will be taken...just delete ...

Inform your friends & others too.

Writing or forwarding any msg on any political & religious debate is an offence now....arrest without warrant...

This is very serious, plz let it be known to all our groups and individual members as group admin can b[e] in deep trouble.

Take care not to send unnecessary messages.
Inform everyone about this to take care.

Please share it; it's very much true.


Firstly, it needs to be noted that there is there is no “Ministry of Interior Regulation” in Pakistan. The closest in name is the Ministry of Interior, which has not issued any notification on the subject as per its official and public communications. This message is verbatim copied from a
similar hoax in India, where a fake notification was circulated through WhatsApp earlier this year.

While the notification has no authenticity as it was not issued by any government authority, it is still important to counter the misinformation contained therein. The notification posits that “All calls are recorded”. There is no law in Pakistan that allows for mass surveillance of the contents of phone calls, even the most problematic of legislation such as the Fair Trial Act 2013 requires warrants to be obtained before calls can be intercepted, monitored, or saved. While there is a possibility of targeted intercepts, there is no evidence of mass interception of all telephonic calls in the country. Furthermore, even though the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 allows for retention of traffic data for up to one year (section 32: Retention of Traffic Data), this retention does not extend to the contents of communications. It is also important to note that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the right to privacy to all citizens under Article 14, and it is unlikely that mass surveillance and monitoring of communications will be deemed legal.

The message also claims that “WhatsApp is monitored”. All messages exchanged through WhatsApp are protected by end-to-end encryption, which means that third party interception and real-time monitoring is impossible. WhatsApp does not store any data on its servers. While there have been reports of backdoors and given the fact that it is owned by Facebook, the potential effects are quite limited and extremely unlikely to compromise communications at a mass level.

Writing or forwarding any msg on any political & religious debate is an offence now....arrest without warrant…

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, does not criminalize political or religious speech per se. Despite being broad and vaguely worded, the Act only criminalizes political speech in the event that it falls under the definitions of hate speech (section 11), cyber terrorism (section 10), glorification of an offence (section 9), defamation (section 20) or spoofing (section 26). Even in the event that speech qualifies as a crime under these sections, there is no provision for “arrest without warrant” given the protections of due process and criminal procedure for obtaining data and devices, as well as arrest and detention.

The message ends with a general warning: Don't forward any posts or videos etc., you receive  regarding politics/present situation about Government/PM etc.

Panic-inducing messages such as these have the effect of chilling speech and discourages citizens from engaging in political discourse.

While it is important to be cautious in our speech, especially when it comes to sensitive topics, it is imperative to still exercise the rights that we have as citizens and not give in to fear and panic. In times like these, we must be vigilant and cautious before sharing or forwarding any news or information and ensure that the news is from a verified and authentic source before distributing it.

Author: Shmyla Khan

November 26, 2017 - Comments Off on Press Release: DRF and NetBlocks find blanket and nation-wide ban on social media in Pakistan and demand it to be lifted immediately

Press Release: DRF and NetBlocks find blanket and nation-wide ban on social media in Pakistan and demand it to be lifted immediately

The NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory project in coordination with the Digital Rights Foundation has collected evidence of nation-wide internet disruptions throughout Pakistan.
On the afternoon of Saturday 25 November, internet users reported disruptions affecting key social media platforms amid protests. The present investigation seeks to provide an early determination of the extent of those restrictions.
Between 16:00 pm and 11:00pm on 25th November 2017, measurements from 121 unique vantage points distributed through 16 ASNs (Autonomous System Numbers) covering major cities and regions in Pakistan were collected, geolocated and anonymised via the NetBlocks web probe measurement network.
Twitter and Facebook are currently restricted with mobile operators Mobilink, Zong, Telenor, Ufone and fixed providers PTCL, Witribe, Zong and Cybernet. Our data indicates that YouTube restrictions are only partially implemented, suggesting that many internet users in Pakistan will still be able to access the video streaming service. Availability of other services has not yet been investigated. A control set of international news websites remained reachable, indicating that the restrictions are targeted to suppress social media coverage of the unrest. The restrictions remain in effect at the time of writing.
A summary of the data is available in CSV format for examination and may be used with credit. This report is provided as an early indicator during an ongoing crisis situation; we expect our investigation to be supported by more detailed technical evaluation.

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Cities specifically found to be affected include Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Islamabad, Quetta and Peshawar while the data suggests the restrictions are in affect nationwide, save for a small number of outliers which appear remain able to access the services.
Digital Rights Foundation demands the suspension of the blanket and nation-wide ban on social media and channels of communication as it does not serve the principles of freedom of expression and proportionality. While the government can take measures to ensure the security of Pakistani citizens, it is important to strike a balance between censorship and security. is a global network observatory that monitors Internet shutdowns, network disruptions, and cybersecurity incidents and their relation to politics and conflict in real-time.
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a research and advocacy NGO based in Pakistan that focuses on how ICT can support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance. It works towards a world where all people, and especially women, are able to safely exercise their right of expression.

November 11, 2017 - Comments Off on October 2017: DRF drafts Policy Recommendation for the Data Protection Legislation

October 2017: DRF drafts Policy Recommendation for the Data Protection Legislation

DRF drafts Policy Recommendation for the Data Protection Legislation


Jannat Ali Kalyar from Digital Rights Foundation prepared a policy brief regarding data protection and privacy in the digital age. The 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. Read the blog post here.

Malala attends Nighat Dad's talk at the Oxford University

Nighat Dad spoke at Oxford University on Navigating Social Media: Tackling Violence, abuse and Harassment” on November 2, 2017. Nighat was hosted by Oxford University Pakistan Society, and talked about why and how she felt the need to establish an organisation to raise the concerns that not only affect her as a woman but also to other millions of women in Pakistan - the issues that go back to the patriarchal roots the society is based on, and the issues that have been oppressing women for centuries.

The talk was attended by the students of the university, which also included the youngest Nobel Prize recipient, the amazing Malala Yousufzai. She applauded the efforts that DRF is doing to make online spaces safe for women, including the Cyber Harassment Helpline.


Because the DRF team is focused on doing a lot of things, the limelight of the week was knowing that Malala has been following our work very closely and has been excited about the launch of the helpline as much as we were. It’s safe to say that we had a little celebration at the DRF office amidst the chaos.

Nighat Dad spoke at the Mozilla Festival 2017


Nighat Dad was part of the diverse lineup of speakers advocating for digital rights around the world for this year’s MozFest. Nighat shared her frustration for being invited on yet another global festival and to speak about inspirational success stories on yet another stage in front of yet another group of people, and finally go back to the real life where people are still facing injustice, where women are still oppressed, where her understaffed Cyber Harassment Helpline team is exhausted while trying to provide relief to the victims of online abuse with limited resources, and while trying to make things a little better than they were before the event that she attended. She talked about how her mouth hurts now to be speaking at panels and conferences without having to see the situation getting better. Watch her full talk at MozFest here.

DRF submission on online violence against women to Human Rights Council

DRF submitted the report to the UN Special Rapporteur on online violence against women. The report explores the laws and institutions that are in place within Pakistan to deal with issues of online violence against women. Facts and figures are used to gauge the extent of the problem and its nature, relying on data provided by the government, law enforcement agencies and collected by DRF. A legal analysis of the legislation is accompanied by an appraisal of the implementation of the laws and the functioning of institutions on the ground. Reported judgments are also analysed to gauge jurisprudence (interpretations of the laws) as well as legal principles developed by local courts. The purpose of the report is not only to analyse the existing structures, but to situate them within the lived experiences of women facing online violence. This experience is elucidated through case studies as well as analysis done by DRF’s cyber harassment helpline team. The report can be accessed here.

DRF attended 5-day Digital Rights Camp in Indonesia

Hija Kamran from Digital Rights Foundation was part of a 5-day digital rights camp, COCONET, that took place from October 21 till 26, 2017 in Indonesia. The camp was organised in an informal setting and gathered 120 digital rights activists from South Asia and Southeast Asia, and aimed at discussing the state of digital rights from the region and encouraging collaboration and bringing everyone on one platform to promote well-being of the citizens beyond borders.

The intervention from the representative of DRF was largely based on curbing online gender based violence and the tools and approaches that have been and can be proven effective in the context of conservative societies.

What does a feminist internet look like?” at Books and Beans

feminist internet

The panel discussion was facilitated by Maham Javed and included Sarah Eleazar along with Shmyla Khan and Nighat Dad of DRF. They discussed the issues that women faced online as well as a call to action to “fix” the internet and imagine it from a feminist framework. The event was organized by 'Well-connected women', a journalistic project about feminism and the internet in Pakistan, called.

STEMinists of Pakistan: How to Overcome Barriers in STEM fields”, 28 October 2017, British Council Library

In the panel DRF was represented by Shmyla Khan who highlighted the barriers that women face in STEM fields in Pakistan, such as equal progression/ equal pay, as well as local biases and stereotypes preventing women from taking up roles. The panelists shared strategies on how women can “make it” in fields related to science and technology, and shared their personal journeys.

Online Safety Session at Bahria University, Islamabad

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Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) conducted an awareness raising on the online safety of female students at Bahria University, Islamabad on 10th October, 2017. Participants included 85 female students from the Law, Media Studies and Social Sciences departments. The presentations given by the DRF team focused on cyber harassment laws and policies, the impact of harassment on women, DRF’s cyber harassment helpline, threat modelling, controlling access online and digital safety.

Awareness Raising Workshop at Forman Christian College, Lahore

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Digital Rights Foundation carried out an awareness raising workshop on November 1st, 2017 at Forman Christian College (A Chartered University) Lahore, with the collaboration of Women Empowerment Society and Forman Journalism Society. There were 72 number of female students from Journalism department. During the workshop several issues were discussed such as online violence against women, cyber harassment, cyber stalking, spear phishing attacks etc. Digital security team by DRF demonstrated on how to use digital devices safely and securely.