Archives for July 2018

July 24, 2018 - Comments Off on Press Release: Campaigning on Social Media beyond ECP’s Deadline

Press Release: Campaigning on Social Media beyond ECP’s Deadline

For Immediate Release

June 24, 2018

Digital Rights Foundation has observed that while political parties discontinued their public meetings and campaigns on electronic and print media at the stroke of midnight on June 24th 2018, social media campaigns of several major political parties still remain active. This raises interesting and troubling questions regarding the ability of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to monitor and regulate social media.

The team at Digital Rights Foundation has observed that that Facebook and Twitter accounts of various parties, including the big three PTI, PML(N) and PPP, have been posting material that qualifies as campaigning on their official social media pages. Additionally, we have also noted that PTI’s Snapchat account (pti.imrankhan) was also active after the deadline of midnight between July 23rd and 24th, 2018. SMS directed at voters of NA131 by PTI were also delivered after the deadline. It has also been observed that one political party was streaming live through its YouTube account at noon on July 24th. Thus we see both internet and telecommunications fuelled campaigns in full swing despite the haul in activities in non-virtual spaces.

The law around elections was consolidated in the form of the Election Act 2017 and is supplemented by the Code of Conduct and notifications issued by the ECP. Section 182 of the Election Act clearly states:

“Prohibition of public meetings during certain period.— No person shall convene, hold or attend any public meeting, or promote or join in any procession, within the area of a constituency or, in the case of the Senate election, a Province, during a period of forty-eight hours ending at midnight following the conclusion of the poll for any election in that constituency or Province.”

Furthermore, the ECP’s Code of Conduct posits:

“There shall be a complete ban on convening, holding or attending any public meeting, or promoting or joining in any procession, within the area of a constituency during a period of forty-eight hours ending at midnight following the conclusion of the poll and as such the election campaign in all respect shall come to an end before the said hours Violation will be treated as an illegal practice."

For the purposes of this observation, DRF has only considered official and verified accounts of mainstream political parties. Posts made after the midnight deadline have been consolidated to reveal that while a majority of the violations have been on part of PTI, all political parties across the spectrum have continued electioneering during the course of June 24th, including but not confined to PML(N), AWP, PPP, Pak Sarzameen Party, JUI and APML. Furthermore, DRF has distinguished between posts that are not propagating for their particular party and social media activity that is geared towards campaigning for votes.

Apart from Facebook and Twitter posts, it was interesting to note that Facebook advertisements in the form of sponsored posts were still active for official pages of PTI, Shehbaz Sharif and AWP. As per our observation, PTI’s ads were still active on Twitter as well throughout July 24th. This means that paid advertisements were reaching social media pages beyond the mandated period by the ECP. It is also unclear whether social media advertisements and monetized posts are accounted for by the ECP within the budgetary caps in place for election campaigns (Rs. 4 million for an NA seat campaign and Rs. 2 million for a PP seat).

We have also noticed a discrepancy between the date/time of posting and the time-stamp on some of these posts, suggesting that these were perhaps scheduled ahead of time by a social media team unaware of the ECP regulations and their implications online.

This clearly indicates that the ECP has neglected to include social media within the ambit of election campaigns, and does not have an effective monitoring cell dedicated to keeping taps on social media websites. With the proliferation of communication technologies and their potential to influence voters, it is a glaring oversight on part of the ECP to exclude social media from its definition of what constitutes an “election campaign”. As online spaces are becoming increasingly important in election campaigns, from the weaponization of voter information to misinformation campaigns through social media the world over. these practices, if left unmonitored, can significantly impact the course of any election.

We would urge the ECP to devise a comprehensive Code of Conduct for the Internet in which issues of caps on social media ad spending, jurisdictional and halqa-level regulation of digital spaces, transparency of online activities, party-mandated online harassment, accessibility and conduct of political social media wings are addressed keeping in mind the manner in which modern electioneering campaigns are governed. The ECP is confronted with complex questions of a legal and technological nature--modern political social media campaigns are fragmented, expansive and complex--but it needs to take them seriously rather than avoiding the question altogether. We are optimistic, given the ECP’s embrace of technology in other aspects of the electoral process, that it will learn from its shortcomings in these elections.


For information and comments:
Shmyla Khan - shmyla@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

July 20, 2018 - Comments Off on Freedom on the Net 2017 (URDU)

Freedom on the Net 2017 (URDU)

Digital Rights Foundation translated the Freedom on the Net 2017 (FOTN 2017) report in Urdu for wider readership. The translated report can be found here [PDF]

This translation of FOTN2017 was possible with the support of vpnMentor.
vpnMentor was created in order to offer users a really honest, committed and helpful tool when navigating VPNs and web privacy. Follow their work here: https://www.vpnmentor.com/

Freedom House released the Freedom on the Net (FoTN) report for the year 2017 which assesses internet freedom in 65 countries, accounting for 87 percent of internet users worldwide. The report primarily focuses on developments that occurred between June 2016 and May 2017.

Meticulously researched by Digital Rights Foundation and research analysts at Freedom House, the FoTN 2017 report for Pakistan is an attempt to collate and evaluate the state-level violations of user rights, internet freedom, and implementation of censorship in Pakistan. The report ranks Pakistan “Not Free” for the sixth consecutive year. Here are some of the key findings from the Freedom on the Net Report 2017 with regards to Pakistan:

- Mobile internet service was shut down for more than a year in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, starting in June 2016

- The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act enacted in August 2016 introduced stronger censorship and surveillance powers with inadequate oversight

- A teenager was arrested for allegedly “liking” a blasphemous post on Facebook in September 2016; a court awarded the death penalty in a separate Facebook blasphemy case in June 2017

- Five bloggers known for criticizing authorities and religious militancy were abducted in January 2017; one later said a government institution had detained and tortured him. The fifth was still missing in late 2017

- Social media personality Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother in July 2016 for videos she shared on Facebook; separately in April 2017, journalism student Mashal Khan was killed by a mob who accused him of online blasphemy

- Hackers stepped up attempts to target government critics, attacking a major media website

The report further notes that the Internet Freedom Status for the year 2017 has in fact worsened for Pakistan from that in 2016. With the ranking of 18 out of 25 for Obstacles to Access for 2016, the bar sits at 19 for the year 2017; and Violations of User Rights which sat at 31 out of 40 for the year 2016, it’s now at 32. The overall ranking for Pakistan closes at 71 out of 100 (100 being the worst) for this year, two points down from last year’s ranking - declaring Pakistan “Not Free” for yet another year.

July 19, 2018 - Comments Off on Technologies in Elections

Technologies in Elections

Lahore, Pakistan | Photo by Muhammad Muzamil

The general elections of 2018 are fast approaching. What has changed since the last time voters cast their ballots five years ago in 2013? The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has upgraded the electoral process via some vital technological improvements with the aim of fostering greater civic engagement, educational reforms and transparency in the reporting process.

The first among these developments has been the “Click ECP mobile app”, launched on December 7, 2017 and available through the Google Play Store, which handily compiles information related to several facets of the electoral process, from casting the ballot box to checking CNIC registration. All the information available on its website has been conveniently packed into this application which Android users can now access easily. However questions of accessibility persist as the application does not have an Urdu version and is only available in English.

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The application offers information about the ECP’s new technological innovations such as the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and Biometric Verification Machine (BVM). According to the app, ECP has recently purchased 100 EVM devices for pilot testing to check the feasibility and reliability of the devices in the electoral process of Pakistan. The new Election Act 2017 has legally sanctioned for pilot testing of the devices in the by-elections. The app also shows a video tutorial of how the device works. Similarly for the BVM, ECP has recently purchased 150 BVM devices for pilot testing. The machines were tested at 39 polling stations in the NA-120 by-elections. In light of this pilot project, ECP will lay down the future plan of usage of BVMs. The app also features a step by step video guide to how the BVM works. The feasibility of EVM machines has been challenged on several grounds including transparency, digital security risks and the heavy price-tag.

The ECP will also use an innovative approach to relay the results of the General Elections 2018, utilizing the Results Transmission System (RTS) in which an Android-based application will be used to transmit results in real time. ECP will be providing the Presiding Officers at each polling station with smartphones containing the required application which will have the GPS system installed in order to trace down the location of the presiding officer. They will be responsible for counting the votes and after counting them, they will take the picture of the total number of votes and upload them on that application. The ECP has already conducted tests of the new system at the by-elections in NA-4 Peshawar and PS-114 Karachi constituencies. It has been planned that the Presiding Officers (PO) will enter the polling results in the app which then transmits the data to the ECP servers in real time. The application uses GPS to record the location of the result and generates a timestamp of the upload. According to the ECP, this should enhance the transparency and discourage unofficial and premature announcements by the electronic and social media. In case of internet unavailability in a particular area, the picture taken through that application which will be uploaded once the device is connected to the internet. After they have uploaded the pictures, Returning Officers and ECP will be able to check them for the verification of data. Presiding officers will be asked questions if they change their location at the time of uploading picture or they do not upload the correct data on the same location. This time ECP is trying to take all the precautionary measures that are possible in order to prevent any form of lag or mishap. However, given the unavailability of internet infrastructure in certain parts of the country, this method of data collection will not be feasible everywhere.

According to newspaper reports, the ECP has collaborated with NADRA,PTA, and several telecom operators to make the operations seamless. It is important to highlight, however, that issues of digital security have been neglected by the ECP, and that the potential for electronic tampering and hacking exists given the relaying of results will be solely technology-based at select polling booths.

Finally, the ECP is bound to publish election-related data on its website as well which is stipulated in various sections of the Election Act 2017. The ECP’s website details its efforts to promote fair and free elections. The download section offers several different forms required during the electoral process, from the affidavit to be filed with the nomination form, to the Postal Ballot Form in both Urdu and English. The website also helps political candidates by offering the declaration of assets form. However, there is room for improvement in the ECP’s efforts as the candidate lists are incomplete and at times the names of nominees are ineligible.

However, despite these advancements, the monitoring of election campaigns as mandated by law, does not account for social media as the preferred method of electronic political advertisement. With regard to the harassment of female candidates, who are routinely subjected to derogatory statements on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the ECP offers no protection. The ECP also does not contain any guidelines in its Code of Conduct for discouraging defamatory campaigns against rival opponents on social media, thus making it unclear whether the use of unwelcoming or abusive language online against political candidates is covered by the legislation. Twitter is especially susceptible to such campaigns where teams of social media activists and trolls routinely exploit trending hashtags in order to vilify political opponents or to promote their own political party and candidates. Such engineering of the electoral process via the influence of social media on voters, which cannot be understated in the era of Facebook’s dilemma with fake news, has the potential to disrupt the transparency and freedom of the electoral process this year.


Co-authored by Asthar Haideri and Sualeha Khalid for the Digital Rights Foundation.

July 17, 2018 - Comments Off on Statement: DRF and Bolo Bhi call for digital accessibility during General Elections 2018

Statement: DRF and Bolo Bhi call for digital accessibility during General Elections 2018

July 17, 2018 -- Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi fear the blocking of internet and mobile networks in the run up to and during the General Elections 2018 in Pakistan, and call on the caretaker government of Pakistan to ensure mobile and digital accessibility, protection of freedom of speech, and the right to association as citizens exercise their democratic and civic duties on July 25, 2018.

We, as the citizens of Pakistan, are not new to the idea of total and partial network shutdowns that affect the way people communicate in current technologically advanced times, and unreasonable attempts like internet shutdowns to conceal security lapses go against the constitution of Pakistan.

Internet shutdowns have not proven to contribute substantial benefits towards national security and/or against terrorism. In fact, they promote chaos among people at the receiving end of this violation of their fundamental right to free speech as guaranteed under Article 19, and the right to information under Article 19-A, and have been declared illegal by the Islamabad High Court earlier this year.

Internet has become a primary source of information for the people of Pakistan, and often times we see mainstream media adopting news from online platforms. The ambulatory nature of the mobile-based internet allows for everyone to contribute news for the people, and makes way for misinformation to be rejected through evidence-based reporting. This misinformation has long been furthering chaos and unrest among unaware citizens, one example of which was seen during the social media blackout amid nationwide violent protests from extremist organisations on November 22, 2017 that held Islamabad hostage for days.

A graph of the recent mobile networks shutdown in Lahore on July 13, 2018, developed by NetBlocks by measuring the intent of disruption in the city, depicts internet and telecommunications suspension at a time of crisis when access to information was most vital. Working together, the signatories will continue to observe internet connectivity across Pakistan throughout the election period.

Lahore witnessed internet shutdown amid huge rally as former PM Nawaz Sharif returns and arrested | Courtesy of NetBlocks

Pakistan is a new democracy that is constantly struggling to hold the title despite the influence of other forces and actors. The second transition of democratically elected government despite threats of collapsing democracy is testament to the country’s disposition to the idea of a government for the people, by the people, and of the people. Whereas draconian laws like the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 have already limited people’s right to free expression in online spaces and other distressing attacks on advocates of the said right, it is important that the internet and online spaces remain open and accessible without disproportionate barriers in the name of security.

Law enforcement agencies have never provided sufficient evidence that can establish a link between shutting down communications and increased safety at a gathering or event. Rather, network shutdowns cause further panic as people are unable to communicate and update others in case of a mishap.

We demand that protecting the fundamental rights to speech, assembly, and association as promised under the Constitution of Pakistan be held above anything, and suggest that the caretaker government take reasonable on-ground security measures to ensure safety of citizens accordingly instead of cutting off citizens from each other.


For information and comments, contact:
Usama Khilji, Director, Bolo Bhi: usama@bolobhi.org
Nighat Dad, Executive Director, DRF: nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk
Alp Toker, Director, NetBlocks: alp@netblocks.org

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a non-profit research-based advocacy organisation focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic process, and digital governance. Visit www.digitalrightsfoundation.pk for details.

Bolo Bhi is a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy. Visit www.bolobhi.org for details.

The NetBlocks Group is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all. Visit netblocks.org for details.

July 15, 2018 - Comments Off on Statement: DRF condemns the online attacks against Asma Shirazi

Statement: DRF condemns the online attacks against Asma Shirazi

July 15, 2018 -- Digital Rights Foundation and Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights condemn the social media attacks against Asma Shirazi, a seasoned journalist with years of service to the electronic media, and extends its unfettered support to her.

Ms. Shirazi is made victim of online harassment based on a video where she is heard informing former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif of reasons why his previously recorded interview will not be aired, during a telephonic conversation while he is in-flight from Abu Dhabi to Lahore.

Asma Shirazi, a celebrated journalist who doesn’t need any introduction, has contributed far more than expected of any journalist, was performing her journalistic duty being paid for by her media house - Aaj News. She soon found herself receiving unrestricted, unreasonable and uncalled-for hatred directed at her.

This is not the first time a woman journalist has been attacked for doing her job. Previously, Irum Abbasi, Saba Aitzaz and Marvi Sirmed have been attacked viciously, and in all of these instances, the nature of the attacks are personal which often go from body-shaming, character assassination to rape and death threats really quick.

Women have always been a victim of torture and abuse in every setting; and with little to no freedom to express their opinions at their disposal, their right to occupy online spaces has also been affected in attempts to silence them through endless online violence.

We believe that it’s also important to highlight the increase in the gendered nature of online abuse against women journalists as we approach the General Elections 2018 in less than two weeks. These attacks not only affect the unbiased journalism but also promote self-censorship among women journalists who are forced to remain silent in order to avoid cyber harassment. DRF strongly condemns such abuse and harassment aimed at Asma Shirazi in this instance in particular, and other women journalists at large, and reiterates that under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), online violence is a punishable offence and concerned authorities should treat it as such under the rule of law

DRF strongly opines that journalism is a profession and it’s rather essential that the journalists should be guaranteed a safe environment to work in, and their freedom of expression and freedom of press should be protected at all cost - the fundamental right that is protected under the Constitution of Pakistan.


This statement is drafted by DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights.

July 13, 2018 - Comments Off on DRF and NetBlocks strongly condemn the blocking of Slate Magazine in Pakistan

DRF and NetBlocks strongly condemn the blocking of Slate Magazine in Pakistan

13 July, 2018 -- The Digital Rights Foundation and NetBlocks strongly condemn the blocking of Slate Magazine (www.slate.com) in Pakistan.

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“This unprecedented attempt at censorship is not just an attack on free press, but also against the fundamental right to free speech and access to information granted under article 19 and 19-A of the constitution of Pakistan to its citizens,” Hija Kamran, Communications Manager, Digital Rights Foundation, said.

“We demand transparency from the government authorities in their actions and urge them to unblock slate.com in Pakistan immediately while notifying its citizens why the online magazine was blocked in the first place”, she adds.

On 12 July, 2018 inaccessibility to the website was first detected by the NetBlocks internet observatory. An Initial investigation conducted by NetBlocks and Digital Rights Foundation determined that the ban was in effect throughout the country. Subsequent data collected through a controlled study, incorporating 480 sets of measurements over 12 hours via vantage points and providers across the country, indicates a targeted and purposeful disruption consistent with internet filtering techniques.

A chart of measurements from the study shows unavailability of the Slate website on Pakistan’s main providers. During the same period, the site remained accessible internationally.

The organisations informed Slate of the blocking, who then said they were unaware of the incident. In response Slate has cooperated with Digital Rights Foundation by sharing visitor statistics that depict an evident drop in traffic from Pakistan during July 2018.

As we share this statement, we are waiting on receiving an official comment from Slate on the incident.

As Pakistan prepares to hold its general elections in less than two weeks, this action by the authorities is alarming and points to the larger crackdown on dissent and free expression in the country.

There has been no official notification from the Pakistani authorities on the blocking of slate.com even though multiple attempts of accessing the website reflect that it was blocked on the orders of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

“The blocking of an international independent media outlet is a blatant violation to both internet and press freedom”, Hannah Machlin, Global Advocacy Manager, NetBlocks said.

“The fact that this incident occurred in a democratic country in the run up to their general elections, underlines the importance of digital observation. We will continue to closely monitor Pakistan and the rest of the world in order to uncover and verify censorship attempts,” Machlin, added.

The Internet has become a primary source of communication for people across borders. From delivering news to seeking information on new developments, online media has transformed into an essential part of how people exercise their right to information. At times when mainstream media adopts its news from online platforms, it’s important that these media are kept free and open for all to access, without disruption and discrimination. Attempting to censor and restrict critical and independent voices harms Pakistan’s global outlook. We believe that press freedom has increasingly become dependent on digital freedom, and emphasize that it is crucial to keep both mainstream media and online media open for all.

Pakistan has a rich history of censorship since the advent of modern technology. From columns pulled out from newspapers to news channels forced off-air, a comparatively recent three-year ban on YouTube in the country that was lifted in 2016, and multiple websites being blocked in the name of national security or obscenity to social media blackouts and partial and complete network shutdowns - the country is not alien to the concept of technological disruptions. The crackdown on dissent by various forceful attempts is testament to the violation of constitution and universal treaties that Pakistan has signed to protect freedom of speech and press in the country.


Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research based advocacy NGO focusing on ICT to support human rights, democratic processes, and digital governance.

The NetBlocks Group is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.

July 12, 2018 - Comments Off on June 2018: The Government of Pakistan introduces bill for data protection legislation

June 2018: The Government of Pakistan introduces bill for data protection legislation

DRF Statement: Ministry of IT and Telecom introduces the Personal Data Protection Bill

Photo by Thomas Kvistholt on Unsplash

We commend the efforts of the MoITT to put the preliminary bill of the Personal Data Protection Act for comments. The initial overview of the draft by the DRF team suggests that while the bill is comprehensive in its scope and underscores the importance of data protection and consent of the user before using and/or transmitting their data, we notice that it indeed has some loopholes that have the potential of taking away people’s agency from their information.

DRF submitted a policy brief to the ministry, PDF of which can be found here, and some of our recommendations were made part of this draft. However, we believe that certain sections in the bill should be amended, and DRF is in the process of analysing it in detail to file a submission to the ministry. We hope that the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications will take our recommendations into account in order to address these issues.

Read the full statement here.

Digital misogyny is personal and fixable

Article posted on the website of United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

For women and girls, the internet can be empowering but it can also be a dangerous space. Threats, intimidation and extortion attempts are just some of the ways that abuse online takes place. The abuse comes because of what the victim has said, or the group they belong to, the cause they are advocating or in many cases, simply because they are female.

The nature of attacks on women human rights defenders and activists is different, said Nighat Dad, Executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan. During instances of online gender based violence, she had routinely noticed that the attacks against women activists have been personal. Women are criticised for the clothes they wear, how they smoke a cigarette, there are calls for them to be assaulted or raped, Nighat Dad said.

“While not abuse against anyone is less terrible than the other, but when the men are abused, they are abused based on their work. But when a woman is involved, the attacks become personal. Body shaming, character assassination, rape threats, you name it.”

The results of online harassment is stark: women have reported the subsequent psychological harm, including cases of depression, and threats to their safety. These online threats often materialize offline, i.e. online violence can result in offline violence, such as the case in India for Ms Gauri Lankesh a journalist who published criticism of Hindu extremism was killed last year following widespread calls online for violence against her.

Read the article here.

Man convicted under cybercrime law for child pornography

Following in the stead of his predecessor, Judicial Magistrate Aamir Raza Baitu has issued a judgement under section 22 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 [PDF]. This development comes on the heels of another important judgement on online harassment and blackmailing which was reported here and which spoke to the potentially positive impact that the otherwise draconian Act can have if employed within reason.

The defendant in this case was accused by the Cyber Crime Circle of the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), of possessing, transmitting and producing pornographic pictures and sexually explicit videos by casting children between the ages 10 and 12 in them and then transmitting those pictures and videos to his agent, A , in Norway. The complainants in this case were not the affected children, but the FIA itself, as child pornography is one of the few offences where the FIA can take cognizance. Read details here.

Digital Rights: A Global Action Plan | Global Media Forum

Nighat Dad was at the Global Media Forum happened from June 11-13, 2018 in Bonn, Germany. Nighat's talk titled "Digital Rights: A Global Action Plan" addressed the issues pertaining to digital rights and explored the possible actions required to be taken collectively for a safe and inclusive internet. Nighat said, "While as journalists, human rights defenders and advocates of open access, we can’t bring a revolution in a matter of days, but what we can do is provide support to people and advocate for stronger legislations." Watch Nighat's talk here.

Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights

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Digital Rights Foundation launched its Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights in 2017 to equip women journalists to counter online violence targeted at them and overcome past experiences that may lead to self-censorship or in extreme conditions, pull themselves away from digital spaces altogether. Online violence is a barrier to women and girls’ access to ICTs and the internet, and their broader human rights, stifling freedoms of expression, association and assembly. To counter this, DRF has created a space for the Network members to regularly share articles and columns on digital rights issues which can be found on the Hamara Internet website here, and to record their voices, particularly relating to digital rights and security issues.

Freedom Network introduces Safety Advisory For Pakistani Journalists Covering #Elections2018

"Freedom Network, Islamabad-based Pakistani media watchdog organisation, releases Safety Advisory to sensitise journalists, photographers, cameramen, media assistants and their organisations on need to take measures to make staffers safe while reporting #Elections2018.

The tips – both in English and Urdu languages – may help minimise risks they may face while reporting these important elections." Details here.

Study reveals extent of Awami Workers political party website block in Pakistan

PAKISTAN – The NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory project in coordination with the Digital Rights Foundation has collected evidence of blocking of a political party website, operated by the Awami Workers Party, in the run up to general elections scheduled on the 25th of July 2018.

The extensive study conducted on Sunday 3 June 2018, spanning 73 autonomous networks and comprising some 10,000 measurements using network digital forensic techniques reveals that the political party’s website has been blocked by most, but not all, Pakistani internet service providers throughout the country. Read the statement by DRF here.

LHC issues notices to PTA chairman, ECP over Facebook’s influence on general election

The petitioner, Shahid Jamal, requested the court to direct the interim federal government, ECP and PTA to press Zuckerberg to take action against fake accounts created on the social media giant before the general election scheduled for July 25. Details here.

Supreme Court of Pakistan suspends tax deduction on mobile cards

LAHORE: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has suspended tax collection on mobile cards and mobile internet in Pakistan.

Chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar had taken notice of the high levy charged on mobile phone cards in the country as he asked under which law Rs40 were being deducted from Rs100 mobile cards. Details here.

July 11, 2018 - Comments Off on DRF Statement: Ministry of IT and Telecom introduces the Personal Data Protection Bill

DRF Statement: Ministry of IT and Telecom introduces the Personal Data Protection Bill

Photo by Thomas Kvistholt on Unsplash

Digital Rights Foundation would like to appreciate the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MOITT) for drafting a Personal Data Protection Bill and opening it up for consultation among the public. We hope that this is the start of a two-way consultation process where suggestions put forward by civil society groups and citizens are taken into account.

Accessing the internet in a country with little to no focus on digital literacy and no guarantee of data protection is a curious thing. You may expect that what you share online out of your own will is all that anyone knows about you, and that rest of your life remains personal. Right to data protection becomes essential when a person, despite having no understanding of how technological servers work, owns a mobile phone with working telecom network. From his phone number to transmitted data like SMS and call records are being saved somewhere possibly without any security protocols whatsoever - putting the data of that person at risk of being stolen and misused.

While this is not restricted to telecom data, instead, it’s true for all kinds of electronically transmitted information either stored by the person themself or via someone else like that in the case of NADRA database that holds the most sensitive information on over 200 million Pakistanis. A simple internet search lists all the data breaches that NADRA has experienced in the past couple years; a government agency that once held the title of being world’s largest biometric database overlooked the safety of the citizens of Pakistan and allowed for external and internal actors to misuse its data through security loopholes. Digital Rights Foundation recorded some of these breaches in 2017 in an infographic [PDF] in hopes to demand authorities for better security protocols.

This is just one example of citizens data being breached. Whereas it’s important to acknowledge the instances where customer data is being sold for as low as 100 PKR (~ $0.82) by customer care representatives of telecom companies, and through WhatsApp groups. Another rather recent incident was that of a ride-hailing app’s servers being breached and the data of millions of customers was cop. The service chose to remain quiet for months while people continued to use their hacked accounts transmitting more details on the compromised servers. The incident was soon forgotten and no legal measures were taken.

There have been a multitude of instances where customers’ safety was jeopardized and consequences were overlooked. We at the Digital Rights Foundation have recognised and been advocating for the need of a concrete data protection legislation in Pakistan that addresses the issues of security breaches and unwarranted use of their personal information by various organisations and institutions, and grant the protection and power of data to their rightful owners - the users.

It is for this reason, we commend the efforts of the MoITT to put the preliminary bill of the Personal Data Protection Act for comments. The initial overview of the draft by the DRF team suggests that while the bill is comprehensive in its scope and underscores the importance of data protection and consent of the user before using and/or transmitting their data, we notice that it indeed has some loopholes that have the potential of taking away people’s agency from their information. Some of the reservations include vague language being used in the bill, lack of clarity on certain terms including ‘consent’ and ‘public interest’, some sections overlapping and indeed clashing with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), and most importantly this bill seems to be giving broad powers to the authorities and data controllers over user data.

DRF submitted a policy brief to the ministry, PDF of which can be found here, and some of our recommendations were made part of this draft. However, we believe that certain sections in the bill should be amended, and DRF is in the process of analysing it in detail to file a submission to the ministry. We hope that the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications will take our recommendations into account in order to address these issues.

Meanwhile, we recommend everyone to review the bill here [PDF]. We would encourage all citizens to send their recommendations to us at info@digitalrightsfoundation.pk with subject line “Recommendations for Personal Data Protection Bill”, or send feedback directly to MoITT to feedback.dpl@moitt.gov.pk.


Statement drafted by Hija Kamran and Shmyla Khan for the Digital Rights Foundation