Archives for December 2017

December 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Content Regulation in the Digital Age – DRF’s Submission to the Human Rights Council Report 2018

Content Regulation in the Digital Age – DRF’s Submission to the Human Rights Council Report 2018

On December 20th, 2017, Digital Rights Foundation submitted its response to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, for the upcoming study, “Content Regulation in the Digital Age” as part of the June 2018 Human Rights Council Report.

This submission is a precursor to DRF’s future plans to investigate the role of the private sector in regulating Pakistan’s online spaces, and sets the background for further advocacy revolving around online content regulation in Pakistan, while observing how this largely falls under the ambit of the government. Private sector regulation of online content is at present a by-product of the state regulatory regime.

DRF’s submission details the laws and regulations established by the Pakistani government, which must be followed by ISPs and private companies. As with other nations of the Global South, the current political climate informs internet policy-making in Pakistan, with security concerns superseding fundamental human rights, in particular the rights of the general internet user and citizen. This is a situation that is exacerbated by the lack of substantial collaborations, if any, between the private sector, civil society and other relevant stakeholders, and the government.

What we are calling for through this submission, therefore, is a re-evaluation of the approach towards online content regulation by policy-makers in Pakistan, in order to uphold the right to freedom of expression -- as per the international human rights framework -- and ensure increased transparency and accountability on and for online platforms in Pakistan.

DRF examined the legislative framework that guides and underpins content regulation in Pakistan, and the problems associated with it, as can be encapsulated by the visible increase in internet censorship, takedowns and content filtration in Pakistan, as well as the prohibition of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and encryption mechanisms. The submission further discusses the existing processes developed by companies, both overseas and locally, to ensure adherence to Pakistan’s current content regulation regime, including the role of telecommunications companies operating within the country.

What our findings demonstrate is that in recent years the Government of Pakistan has established a strict regulatory regime for online spaces under the auspices of an overarching and all-encompassing security narrative, with various state institutions intervening on special occasions and particular topics. Conditions set under Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan have been interpreted broadly to enact vague criminal laws with draconian penalties, with those overly broad interpretations seeping into the government’s approach to online spaces as well.

DRF’s submission can be found here, and we hope that other stakeholders will benefit from it as well.

Written by Zoya Rehman, Jannat Ali Kalyar and Adnan Ahmad Chaudhri

December 20, 2017 - Comments Off on The Cyber Harassment Helpline Completes One Year of its Operations

The Cyber Harassment Helpline Completes One Year of its Operations

As the Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline completes its one year, the team compiles and releases its first one-year report. The report [PDF] contains data collected by the Helpline which highlights the nature and extent of the problem of online harassment. The Report also contains recommendations for public bodies to improve their institutional response to online harassment.

Cyber Harassment Helpline

The Cyber Harassment Helpline was launched on December 1, 2016 and is Pakistan’s first dedicated helpline addressing issues of online abuse and violence by providing a free, safe, gender-sensitive and confidential service. It provides legal advice, digital security support and psychological counselling to victims of online harassment. The toll free number [0800-39393] is available during 9am to 5pm.  Nighat Dad, the founder and Executive Director of DRF, explained that “the Helpline aims to fill the gaps of service delivery to complainants and victims of online harassment--to do what law enforcement and other organisations cannot--while paying special heed to gender-sensitivity and mental health."

This report marks the one-year milestone of the Helpline. During its first year, the Helpline has received 1,551 complaints in the form of calls, emails and Facebook messages from December 1, 2016 till November 30, 2017. The Helpline has so far received a total 1476 calls on its toll-free number. The Helpline was originally only operational on the weekdays, however in August, it was expanded to seven days a week to meet the needs of its callers. This has resulted in an increase in the average number of monthly calls from 82 in the first six months to 123 by November.

67% of the calls at the Helpline were by women, whereas 33% of the callers were men. Facebook remains the most widely reported platform, with 45% of callers experiencing harassment there. Among the kinds of harassment reported, complaints of fake profiles, non-consensual use of information, blackmailing, and unsolicited messages were the most common ones.

The Helpline has strict privacy and confidentiality policies in place, and only non-personally identifiable information is collected from our callers with informed consent. While 19% of the callers did not want to disclose their location, we were able to identify that most of our callers on the Helpline were from Punjab (50%). The Helpline also received calls from Sindh (18%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (5%), Balochistan (2%), Azad Kashmir and FATA (1%) and the Federal Capital, Islamabad (5%).

Building on this data, the Digital Rights Foundation has put forward some recommendations for the government and law enforcement agencies to improve the reporting mechanism regarding cyber harassment. There is an urgent need to build the technical and financial capacity of the National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), FIA to deal with complaints in a timely and satisfactory manner. The Investigation Officers (IOs) and Prosecutors need to be trained in cyber crime law, internet governance, criminal procedure and trauma counselling. The FIA is also urged to fulfil its obligation under section 53 of the Prevention Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to submit reports to Parliament and ensure that this report is public. We recommend that the FIA forms a separate desk for addressing online harassment with female IOs and gender-sensitisation training. Lastly, the FIA is urged put in place case management and tracking systems to ensure an accessible complaint registration procedure and effective follow-up on cases.

December 18, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation is at the Twelfth Annual Internet Governance Forum, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation is at the Twelfth Annual Internet Governance Forum, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation is at the Twelfth Annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) happening in Geneva, Switzerland from 18th to 21st of December, 2017. The dynamic get-together of diverse stakeholders will discuss pressing public policy issues related to the digital world. It allows all participants to share their experiences and debate, as equals, the opportunities and challenges arising from the process of digitization.

Find Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, at the IGF organising and speaking at some of the very interesting sessions which include,

Surveillance from the Margins

December 19, 2017 | 11:00 am - 12:00 noon | Room XXII - E United Nations Office at Geneva
Organiser: Digital Rights Foundation

Surveillance is not a uniform experience, be it surveillance by the state, companies or social actors. The gendered nature of surveillance and the different forms it takes given the positionality of the person experiencing it is particularly glaring when experienced by members of a particular gender or a marginalised community. Sometimes surveillance is discriminatory per se, in that it is directed specifically at people because of their gender, race, class, disability, sexual orientation, etc. For instance, phishing attacks experienced human rights activists or offline and on-the- ground-surveillance of journalists covering controversial topics. In other instances, facially non-discriminatory surveillance is experienced differently by certain individuals
because of their marginality and positionality through the disparate impact that it has. It is the second form of surveillance that is often left undiscussed and the intersectionality of race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation and ability is unexamined.

The purpose of this panel comprising of people from diverse backgrounds, is not only to map and understand the diversified experiences of surveillance but to take these findings regarding the diffused nature of surveillance and work towards actively finding solutions to the particular kinds of surveillance experienced by marginalised groups. The aim of the discussion will also be mainstream discourse from the margins at a global level.

Moderator: Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion


  • Nighat Dad
  • Ankhi Das
  • Lisa Garcia
  • Joana Varon
  • Amalia Toledo

The impact of digitisation on politics, public trust, and democracy

December 19, 2017 | 10:00 am - 13:00 pm CET | Main Hall - Room XVII - E United Nations Office at Geneva
High Level Session of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2017

The digital space, as a cornerstone of the public policy space, can be a great enabler for democratic discourse and participation, as well as inclusive policy-making. At the same time, the misuse of the digital public policy space can lead to the distortion of truth, mistrust in public information, and misrepresentation of public opinion.

This session will discuss both the opportunities and the challenges that digitisation brings to the digital political sphere, the public trust, and democracy. Discussions will revolve around ways of strengthening the benefits of democratic participation and inclusion via digital means, limiting the negative impact of the misuse of the public policy space, and rebuilding trust among online users.

The session will also address the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders. It will look at issues such as government policies aimed at creating more inclusive policy-making processes through the use of digital tools, the responsibility of Internet intermediaries for the dissemination of fake news and false news that can influence political processes, and the elements that can help rebuild trust among users. Also, the session will discuss the role of media actors in a democracy and the implications of the ongoing structural change in the media ecosystem. Most importantly, the session will look into whether and how digital literacy, education, and awareness-raising could be the key towards empowering citizens not only to take advantage of digital tools, but also to deal with the challenges related to the misuse of the digital public space.

‘Good stories’, ‘bad stories’, and lessons learnt will be explored as part of the discussions.

Host Chair: Mr. Philipp Metzger, Director General, Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM)
Moderator: Ms. Nathalie Ducommun, Talk Master of Swiss Television RTS
Remote Moderator: Ms. Katharina Hoene, DiploFoundation

The roundtable will include the following speakers:
• Ms. Nighat Dad, Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan*
• Mr. Bobby Duffy, Global Director, Ipsos Social Research Institute*
• Ms. Kareen Jabre, Director of Programmes, Inter-Parliamentary Union*
• Ms. Malavika Jayaram, Executive Director, Digital Asia Hub*
• Mr. Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General Communication & Information, UNESCO*
• Ms. Dunja Mijatovic, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media*
• Mr. Gonzalo Navarro, Executive Director, Asociación Latinoamericana de Internet*
• Mr. Jean Paul Philippot, President, European Broadcasting Union*
• Ms. Snežana Samardžić-Marković, Director General of Democracy, Council of Europe*
• Ms. Nanjira Sambuli, Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation*
• Mr. Sébastien Soriano, Chairman, National Regulatory Authority for Telecoms and
Posts, France*
• Mr. Robert Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International
Communications and Information Policy, U.S. Department of State*

Combating Online Violence Against Politically-Active Women

December 19, 2017 | 3:00 - 4:30 PM CET | Room XXII - E United Nations Office at Geneva
Organiser: National Democratic Institute (NDI)

This is a multi-sector panel discussion about strategies for understanding and combating online violence against politically-active women. Online harassment of politically-active women is one form of the global problem of violence against women in politics (VAW-P), and can result in women choosing not to participate in leadership or political debates, and ultimately not to express their opinion. The resulting limitation of both the number of women able to participate and the range of issues discussed poses a fundamental challenge to democracy, progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as to the integrity of the information space.

The panel will engage experts from multiple sectors including digital activism, women's empowerment, technology, and international governance, to discuss methods for building international understanding of this issue and identifying strategies for combating it.

Moderator: Sandra Pepera, Director, Gender, Women and Democracy, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

Nighat Dad - Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation
David Kaye - UNSR Freedom of Expression
Seyi Akiwowo - Elected politician in East London, and Founder of Glitch! UK
Nathan Mathias - Postdoc computational social scientist at Princeton University
departments of Psychology, Sociology, and Center for Information Technology Policy