Archives for April 2020

April 24, 2020 - Comments Off on How private is the COVID 19 App

How private is the COVID 19 App

Around the world, governments have taken to technology to stop the spread of COVID 19. The experiences and the success of this strategy differed in each area, however, it seems the world is in agreement- we need to employ technology to help with handling the novel coronavirus. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and China all used technology in their fight against the disease. They all used mobile apps in some form or the other, to track the movement of the disease and to find out who might have come into contact with a victim. These countries credit technology for helping them understand how the virus moved and where to implement harsh lockdowns and quarantines. As the virus has spread across the globe, more countries are seeing these applications as their way out and are beginning to adopt these technologies also.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MOITT) along with the National IT Board (NITB) recently launched an app called ‘COVID-19 Gov PK’. This application gives people up to date information about the spread of the novel Corona virus in Pakistan. However, the app has a feature that allows people to trace the disease, and allows the Government to track the trajectory by tracking the movement of its citizens. The app itself is based on a global trend towards using mobile applications for the mapping of the novel coronavirus.

(Image Source: Corona100M / CNN)

While countries the world over are engaging in health surveillance, we believe this is a problematic approach to the current situation given that such features are intruding on the privacy of citizens, as well as providing unfettered access to users' data. Contact tracing has been faced with backlash across the globe for its invasive approach to countering the spread of COVID 19.

While the situation concerning the virus is an emergency, it is still important for the Pakistani government to establish boundaries and limitations for its activities and be transparent, especially if they involve tracking the movements of its citizens and saving their health information on a mobile application. We would welcome the release of SOPs regarding how the data available on the app is being kept and processed.

Data related to an individual’s health is extremely private information, and it is information that affects not only them, but those whom they live with. This is extremely important to remember especially in such times, with a pandemic on our hands. Having sensitive information about where cases have been confirmed on a mobile application is dangerous as it puts families of victims at risk, as well as exposes their location and data regarding their health. The stigmatising of those with this particular disease has only made matters in this regard, worse.

Additionally, as the virus spreads, the Government needs documentation of confirmed cases, however, this information should only be collected as long as COVID 19 continues to be a threat to Pakistan. Some key elements here that would be comforting would be transparency in how patients’ data is being collected, as well as how it is being stored and lastly, what the data destruction policy, if any, is in this regard, as the Privacy Policy contained with the app is not very illuminating.

As people have moved towards remotely working and communicating, there has been a lot of activity online which has subsequently made cyber criminals and hackers more active. In light of this, the app does not address heightened concerns regarding the ‘security’ of the app and the personal data they are saving. In a White Paper, titled ‘Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracking’ (D3PT) ( , experts in the field highlighted that databases made about patients are at a high risk of being attacked and leaked. If intelligent decisions are not made about how this data is saved, attackers can access all the information, thereby affecting the patients themselves, as well as the doctors and scientists working against the spread of the virus.

In the same white paper, the experts explained how their databases should be constructed and maintained, as well as how the transmission of new data works. They gave two case scenarios to the construction of databases. One being a centralized database, and the other being a decentralized one. They made the case for a decentralized database since it offers a more stringent security policy and quicker response to any attempted data breaches.

Lastly, they talked about how the transmission of data works in such apps. COVID 19 tracking apps have a feature called the ‘Radius Map’. It tells the user if their immediate surroundings have had a reported case of the novel coronavirus. It does this by using bluetooth signals that bounce off of other users of similar apps. Because of this, specific locations of patients can be pinpointed to the average user. The White Paper does highlight this as a privacy concern. Additionally, they also highlight the fact that these signals can be manipulated by hackers to create false alerts of nearby COVID 19 patients, spreading panic in an already panicked situation.

We submit that the Government of Pakistan share their detailed SOPs regarding the COVID 19 app launched by them. These should detail their privacy policy in full, detailing data retention and destruction. Also, we maintain that the Government should share with the public as to who exactly has access to this database. While we appreciate that this is an unprecedented situation, the Government still must act in a manner that best protects its citizens' data and their right to privacy, a right enshrined in the very Constitution of Pakistan.

April 21, 2020 - Comments Off on March 2020: Launch of IWF Pakistan reporting portal

March 2020: Launch of IWF Pakistan reporting portal

Online Campaigns and Initiatives

On March 19, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) in collaboration with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages – English, Urdu, and Pashto. The reports will then be assessed by trained IWF analysts in the UK. It is the 33rd portal set up around the world to fight the spread of online child sexual abuse material.

The launch was due to take place in Pakistan and would have been attended by representatives from the British High Commission in Pakistan, as well as representatives from the IWF. However, following the cancellation of flights and public gatherings because of the coronavirus, it was decided a virtual launch would be the best solution.

The new portal can be found at


M4W campaign 2020

DRF participated in Media4Women (M4W) 2020 campaign with around 48 partners from 21 countries committing to putting gender equality in the media on the local and international agenda. The campaign was run between March 1st and March 15th and the theme for this year focused on, Inclusive and Equal Portrayal of Women by the Media. Members of DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights shared quotes on challenging problematic gender stereotypes that portrayed women as less important than men, these were shared on all social media platforms of DRF. DRF also conducted a design competition on the global theme for the year and received numerous submissions.

Policy Initiatives

DRF on Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020

The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, notified by the Federal Government, was the government's attempt to centralize control of all online content through one central ‘National Coordinator,’ which was granted unprecedented censorship powers. It required all social media companies to have a local presence, obligated them to remove any objectionable material and flag as ‘false’ any content communicated to them as being false by the Coordinator. These rules were made without any consultation with any stakeholders and outrightly infringed the Constitutional rights of privacy and free speech. Realizing the devastating impact these rules would have on the already precarious human rights condition with regards to user privacy and freedom of expression, Digital RIghts Foundation issued a statement condemning these rules followed by a Legal Analysis of the same which was also shared publicly. Apart from other things, it was discussed in the legal analysis how these rules violate fundamental right of privacy and free speech, exceed the scope of, as well as contravene, the legislative enactments under which they were framed.

Joint Statement by Digital Rights Foundation and BoloBhi: The Digital Gap During the COVID-19 Pandemic is Exasperating Inequalities

Joint Statement by Digital Rights Foundation and BoloBhi: The Digital Gap During the COVID-19 Pandemic is Exasperating Inequalities

DRF Contributed To ‘The Colombo Declaration’. South Asian Feminists contribution to the Beijing +25 process and other processes

Feminist organizations from South Asia got together to write out a feminist declaration that would be used to create modern states that champion causes like equality, freedom and privacy. You can read the entire declaration here:


Events and Sessions

DRF holds Gender and Privacy at Government College Sahiwal

DRF conducted an informative session on Gender and Privacy at the Government College in Sahiwal on the 3rd of March, 2020 where an audience of 100+ young men and women were in attendance. The session covered a host of topics around the theme and was well-received.

DRF at ‘Empowering Women to fight disinformation’

DRF in collaboration with Global Neighborhood For Media Innovation (GNMI) conducted a session on empowering women to fight disinformation- coming together to combat fake news on 4th March 2020 in Lahore. The session focused on how fake news manifests itself in online spaces and the importance of source verification for not only journalists but also common citizens of the country. The audience included female journalists and media practitioners.

DRF at ‘Bridging Gaps between GBV Survivors and Response Services’

Dastak Charitable Trust held an event, titled: ‘Bridging Gaps between GBV Survivors and Response Services' in which they brought together their first responders and community workers with organizations and institutes in a bid to better inform them and give them a chance to exchange information and ask questions about practical elements of the important work they do with domestic abuse victims. DRF was part of the panel and introduced the Cyber Harassment Helpline to the audience. Informational material was also distributed to the participants of the event.

Other participant organizations and institutions were the police, PCSW, a mental health care helpline, HRCP, AGHS, amongst others.

DRF at FNF’s seminar on ‘Strengthening NGOs: Strategy, Management and Fundraising’

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) held a seminar on 'Strengthening NGOs: Strategy, Management and Fundraising' at the International Academy of Leadership (IAF), Gummersbach from 8th March till 20th March.

During the seminar, the participants took a deep dive into what it takes to set up the organisations. All the participants planned for different ways through which they will be able to upsurge and increase the capacity, sustainability and impact of their organisations. Participants were invited to reflect on their organisation’s purpose and vision, and explore the concepts of leadership and management. The facilitators discussed their organisational culture and NGOs in Germany i-e Mother-hood, a German initiative for the safety of women and children during the birth. A fundraising workshop with Jonathan Moakes was also held on “Managing Donor Relations and Performance Management Plans.”

Media Engagement

Battling for women rights online in midst of patriarchy

AFP wrote a piece on DRF’s executive director Nighat Dad on her work related to women rights and digital rights in Pakistan. The article uncovers Nighat’s journey as an activist and also sheds light on the formation of the Digital Rights Foundation. You can read the full article here:

‘How to Pakistan’ podcast CHAYN

Our Executive Director Nighat Dad was part of the podcast ‘How to Pakistan’ by Chayn which focuses on the #metoo movement in the country. The podcast in available in both urdu and english here:

COVID Updates

Helpline Virtually Available amid Coronavirus pandemic

In wake of the Pandemic COVID 19, Digital Rights Foundation decided to take all the precautionary measures necessary to prevent the spread of this infection, prioritizing both the health of its team members and its callers by shifting the operations of Cyber Harassment Helpline virtual and responding to complaints through emails and social media platforms. Contact us through our email [email protected]

April 17, 2020 - Comments Off on Joint statement on safety of journalists and access to information during the COVID-19 crisis

Joint statement on safety of journalists and access to information during the COVID-19 crisis

In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undersigned chairs and members of the Groups of Friends on the Safety/Protection of Journalists are calling on all states to protect journalists’ and media workers’ safety, safeguard a free and independent media and ensure unhindered access to information, both online and offline.

Free, independent and pluralistic media play an indispensable role in informing the public during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Everyone has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information concerning the nature and level of the threat COVID-19 poses to their health, allowing them to follow evidence-based guidance on how to stay safe.

Public health needs public trust. Trust is crucial to achieving adequate support for and compliance by the general public with efforts by governments to help curb the spread of the virus.

Trust cannot be achieved without transparency and accountability provided and guaranteed by a free media. Conversely, free and independent media has an important role in pushing back against disinformation by providing access to accurate, fact-based and verified information. In this context, it is essential that governments and private entities address disinformation, foremost, by providing reliable information themselves.

We see with great concern an increase in restricting measures taken by States that disproportionately limit the right to freedom of expression and impede journalists and media workers from reporting on the COVID-19 crisis. Arrests, persecution and harassment against journalists and media workers, especially women, as well as smear campaigns to discredit their work and the expulsion of foreign journalists due to their COVID-19 coverage or the criminalisation of alleged misinformation, online and offline, may constitute human rights violations. There should be no place for impunity in democratic societies.

Internet access is essential to ensuring that information reaches those affected by the virus. Governments should end any internet shutdowns, ensure the broadest possible access to internet services, and take steps to bridge digital divides, including the gender gap.

Furthermore, journalists and media workers are subjected to significant physical and psychological risk by being at the frontline reporting on the COVID-19 crisis. They are working under extremely challenging conditions, partly because of lack of sanitary precautions and training, but also because of psychological stress linked to the rapidly evolving situation. Declarations of state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a basis to limit freedom of expression and constrain the working environment of journalists and media workers. It is crucial for societies and the international community as a whole that governments preserve a free, safe and enabling environment for journalists and media workers and ensure that they can report on COVID-19 and inform about responses and consequences without undue interference.

We welcome a range of initiatives aimed at supporting journalists’ and media workers’ safety in the light of COVID-19 undertaken by international organisations, such as UNESCO and civil society, media associations as well as social media companies. Projects to strengthen media in developing countries in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, such as those undertaken by the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication, are particularly welcome.

We also welcome the joint statement of 19 March published by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as well as the press release and statements made by Moez Chakchouk, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, published on 27 March.

We agree with their call that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists at a moment of public health emergency and we remain fully committed to protecting media freedom and safety of journalists at this critical time.

Signed by Austria, France, Greece, Lithuania and Sweden as the chairs and co-chairs, respectively, of the Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists in New York, Geneva, Vienna (OSCE) and Paris


(List of co-signatories, members in any of the four Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO in Paris, the United Nations in New York and Geneva and the OSCE in Vienna, in alphabetical order)

Albania                                                                       Lebanon
Argentina                                                                   Lithuania
Australia                                                                     Luxembourg
Austria                                                                        Montenegro
Brazil                                                                           Morocco
Bulgaria                                                                      The Netherlands
Canada                                                                        Nigeria
Cape                                                                            Norway
Verde                                                                           Paraguay
Chile                                                                             Poland
Costa                                                                            Qatar
Rica                                                                               Republic of Korea
Denmark                                                                      Senegal
Estonia                                                                          Slovenia
Finland                                                                          Sweden
France                                                                           Switzerland
Germany                                                                       Tunisia
Ghana                                                                            United Kingdom
Greece                                                                           United States
Japan                                                                              Uruguay