November 06, 2019 - Comments Off on September 2019: DRF’s team retreat

September 2019: DRF’s team retreat

All the work that Human Rights Defenders do across the globe does become really overwhelming at one point hence break and balance becomes necessary. Keeping alive its tradition and position of being a feminist organisation which believes in love and care, DRF team decided to go for a 5 day retreat which included team building sessions and exercises other than visit to different spots in Naran, followed by yoga sessions with the help of trained professionals.

Nighat Dad on the frontline of weaving a feminist canvas

By Annick Cojean for Le Monde

Nighat Dad spoke to one of the leading french newspapers about her struggle and experience as a feminist activist who not only is working on the protection of digital rights, against harassment but is also taking an active part in organising the women’s liberation movement in the country.

Nighat Dad spoke on Neo News about internet shutdowns Jammu-Kashmir

Nighat Dad spoke to Neo News on the recent Netblocks and Operations of tech giants in Pakistan with reference to censorship of reports on human rights violations in Jammu-Kashmir.

https://youtu.be/C9O3Au1bR1Y

Nighat Dad talked to the World Association of Newspapers and News
publishers regarding online abuse and harassment

Nighat Dad’s conversation with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers on The war online: Abuse and harassment, and what journalists are doing about it

https://blog.wan-ifra.org/2019/09/13/podcast-the-war-online-abuse-and-harassment-and-what-journalists-are-doing-about-it

Nighat Dad’s comments on How the rumour of a baby killer vaccine caused panic in a Pakistani city for TRT World

https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/how-the-rumour-of-a-baby-killer-vaccine-caused-panic-in-a-pakistani-city-29501

Meeting on Collaborations for local media development organizations and journalists on 19th September in Islamabad

DRF participated and moderated a meeting with local media development organisations with the aim of mapping emerging issues in the media landscape. The meeting was a step towards working towards coalition-building and partnerships within civil society groups.

DRF collaborates with UNESCO to mark International Day for the Universal Access to Information in Pakistan on 26th September in Lahore

In partnership with UNESCO Islamabad, DRF commemorated the International Day for the Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) 2019 at ICS, University of Punjab on Thursday, September 26, 2019. The event was organized in partnership with the European Union, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Embassy of Sweden in Pakistan, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and civil society partner Digital Rights Foundation (DRF). At the event, the Ambassador of Sweden, H.E. Ms. Ingrid Johansson,gave the opening remarks  along with the Ambassador of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, H.E. Mr. Wouter Plomp. Speakers at the event included Mr. Zahid Abdullah, the Federal Information Commissioner; Mr. Mahboob Qadir Shah; the Chief Punjab Information Commissioner; Anoosha Shaigan from Courting the Law; Mr. Nabeel Qadeer and Usama Khilji from Bolo Bhi. UNESCO Representative Pakistan, Ms. Vibeke Jensen gave closing remarks. The Deputy Head of mission at European Union Delegation to Pakistan, Ms. Anne Marchal also attended the event.

Gender & Privacy Session at Kinnaird College for Women

DRF conducted a session with students at Lahore’s Kinnaird College for Women on the 6th of September on the digital right to privacy, its importance and the intersectional relation between gender and privacy.

The audience comprised of a little under 100 gender studies and law students and it made for an interactive session with considerable back and forth on the issues pertaining to young women in the online sphere.

Women Parliamentarians Support Group event by Tabeer & PILDAT

DRF presented its ‘Online Participation of Female Politicians’ study to a working group of women politicians and parliamentarians at an event organized by PILDAT and Tabeer. The study, which was released last year in the aftermath of the Pakistan’s General Elections looked into the experience of female politicians in the online sphere, both in terms of their campaigning and how public perception and trolling affected them.

DRF conducted a session on women’s rights and digital security especially cyber harassment

Jannat Fazal from DRF delivered a session on Women's Rights and Digital Security especially Cyber-Harassment in Lahore on September 5, 2019 organized by Rozan for the Pakistan Forum for Democrating Policing Punjab Chapter.  This session was aimed at building the capacity and to increase awareness regarding digital rights and making the cyber space safer for the forum members.

DRF at NCHR consultation on guidelines to protect human rights defenders

DRF participated in a consultation jointly organized by BLUE VEINS, WISE, PHRDN and NCHR in Lahore on september 3, 2019. The consultation was to discuss the NCHR policy guidelines on the protection of Human Rights Defenders.The policy guidelines advocate for stronger legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders in Pakistan recognizing their important work and role in society.

Climate March: DRF also joined the digital #globalclimatestrike from 20th to 27th September

DRF’s website went on a digital climate strike this year on account of the Global #ClimateStrike. With the ever changing problem of climate change it is important for us to recycle and conserve our planet. DRF shut it’s website off for a day this year as a reminder for everyone to do more and contribute in saving our planet.

DRF at round-table on Protection against harassment of women at workplace act (2010)

Our Legal Officer, Barrister Jannat Ali Kalyar attended a Round-table discussion for the review of Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace act (2010), organized by the National Commission on the Status of Women on the 26th of September. There she raised concerns over the implementation of the Act, the challenges that the complainants face in filing their complaint and the way forward.

DRF at Digital Youth Summit (DYS)


Our Legal Officer, Barrister Jannat Ali Kalyar attended the Digital Youth Summit (DYS) that took place in Peshawar from the 28th to the 29th of September where she spoke on Digital Privacy, Cyber Security and the Future of Citizenship in Pakistan. She also stressed on the need to exercise our right to information to hold private and public bodies in control of our data accountable.

November 05, 2019 - Comments Off on Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row

Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row

Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net (FoTN) report for the year 2019, titled “The Crisis of Social Media” to reflect the plethora of issues emerging on social media. The report finds an overall decline in global internet freedom for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. It is noted that while “social media at times served as a level playing field for civic discussion, they are now tilting dangerously toward illiberalism, exposing citizens to an unprecedented crackdown on their fundamental freedoms.” The report focuses on developments that occurred between June 2018 till May 2019.

Pakistan’s ranking on the report remains “Not Free” for the coverage period, with its score decreasing from 27 to 26. Internet freedom declined during this report’s coverage period due to authorities’ increased blocking of political, social, and cultural websites. The general election environment in July 2018 saw connectivity restrictions and increased disinformation. Meanwhile, authorities upped their efforts to silence critical journalists and activists using a range of techniques. Users were again sentenced to death on charges of posting blasphemous content online, although their convictions are under appeal. 

The report for Pakistan was authored by Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and evaluated through the methodology developed by Freedom House. The report methodology assesses 65 countries across the world, based on three broad criteria: obstacles to access; limits on content; and violations of user rights. Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF, stated that “the score this year is the culmination of short-term and regressive policies by successive governments. Years worth of draconian legislation and investment in structures that stymie freedom of expression have led to an environment where the internet in Pakistan is more unsafe and less inclusive.”

Key developments during the coverage period include:
  • Authorities shut down mobile and internet service during protests and in the lead-up to the July 2018 general elections, in both populous cities and less developed regions.
  • Over 800,000 websites hosting political, religious, and social content remain blocked. Voice of America’s websites in Urdu and Pashto were temporary inaccessible during the coverage period, as was the website of the leftist Awami Workers Party.
  • Inauthentic content and automated accounts impacted the online landscape. It emerged, for instance, that bots supporting various political parties surfaced ahead of the July 2018 general elections, while Facebook removed content it claimed to be linked to the Pakistani military’s public relations department.
  • In December 2018, two brothers were sentenced to death for blasphemy, for allegedly sharing “disrespectful material” about the prophet Mohammad on their website in 2011.
  • The government increased social media monitoring, announcing a new system to target extremism, hate speech, and anti-national content. The announcement came a month before the Interior Ministry launched an investigation into journalists and activists supporting murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi on social media.
  • Activists and bloggers faced physical attacks and death threats during the coverage period, while several journalists were booked under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.
The full report can be accessed here. Pakistan’s country-specific report is available here: https://www.freedomonthenet.org/country/pakistan/freedom-on-the-net/2019.

#FreedomOnTheNet

October 27, 2019 - Comments Off on Hearing at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights regarding Privacy and Harassment

Hearing at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights regarding Privacy and Harassment

On 25 October 2019, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), along with members of civil society and student activists, got a chance to brief the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights’ session on the issue of the University of Balochistan in light of privacy, surveillance of campuses and harassment in educational institutes. Along with the acting Vice-Chancellor of the University, student representatives were given a chance to put forward their demands. The Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Khawar Mumtaz, academic & activist Arfana Mallah and Shmyla Khan from DRF gave their recommendations to the Committee.

The facts presented in front of the Committee stated that 92 surveillance cameras had been installed by the university, however, in light of an investigation ordered by the Balochistan High Court, a total of eight unauthorized cameras were found. These cameras were used to record footage of students without their consent and resulted in blackmailing of students at the hands of the administration. The Senators expressed shock and called for accountability of the senior administration of the university, particularly the VC Dr. Iqbal Javed who stepped down after the incident gained national prominence. It was also revealed the University has no harassment committee as per the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act and the HEC’s Policy Guidelines against Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning.

The two student representatives from Quetta highlighted that campuses in Balochistan are highly militarized and controlled spaces. There exists an atmosphere of fear that allows for incidents such as these to remain unreported for years. They demanded that there should be accountability for all involved, to prevent scapegoating of a few individuals instead of addressing the systemic information. They demanded that there should be a ban all arms and ammunition inside university campuses and surveillance cameras should be restricted to the outer gates of campuses. They also stated that a committee for harassment should be set up immediately and given adequate independence and powers. According to the Balochistan Ombudsperson on Workplace Harassment, only one university in the province has a harassment committee in place. The students asked that the ban on student unions should be lifted to allow for organizing on campuses.

Arfana Mallah stated that this issue not confined to one campus or part of the country. There is dearth of women in places of higher education, with women constituting only 20% of the student population and faculty in universities. She demanded that gender audits of educational institutes should be conducted and gender parity should be taken into account when university rankings are conducted. Arfana explained that the CCTV cameras installed under the 2007 HEC directive has resulted in moral policing of students as the camera ends up replicating a patriarchal gaze.

Shmyla from DRF pointed out the need for the protection of the Constitutional right to privacy through a comprehensive personal data protection legislation that shifts the balance of power between the user and data controllers. DRF recommended that cameras from campuses should be removed until HEC develops strong regulation and SOPs for cameras and the data collected. In order to ensure that campuses become critical spaces, it is important to strengthen harassment committees and to closely monitor their progress.

Several senators expressed shock at the state of affairs at universities. Senator Ayesha Raza termed the actions of the university admin as criminal negligence. She also iterated the need for gender parity on committees tasked with addressing harassment. Senator Saif noted that consent-based surveillance should be implemented and stressed the importance of regulation of citizen’s data collected by both private and public bodies.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, decided that a two-pronged approach will be tacked in address the matter. Firstly, in the short term, the Committee will closely monitor the investigation of the incident and the next meeting of the Committee will be held inside the University of Balochistan campus. He also noted that the deployment of security forces at campuses should be reviewed across the country. In the long term approach, HEC will be directed to develop a policy framework to ensure fundamental rights at educational institutions. He recommended that gender rankings be made part of annual rankings issued by the HEC. The Chairperson echoed the demand for restoration of student unions. He also highlighted the urgent need for a data protection law in Pakistan. Senator Khokhar promised that the committee will continue to monitor the FIA proceedings into the privacy violations at the University of Balochistan.

We commend the committee for taking up the issue and framing it as an issue of privacy violations and harassment of female bodies. We hope that they will continue to follow up on these promises. 

October 25, 2019 - Comments Off on What is Ransomware And How can you protect Yourself

What is Ransomware And How can you protect Yourself

The DRF’s helpline has noticed a marked increase in complaints regarding ransomware attacks in Pakistan. This increase means that such attacks are becoming more commonplace, and it would be good practice to protect our devices and software against such malicious software.

Ransomware is a term most people talking about these days. It is a malicious software that enters your hard drive and encrypts all your files, rendering them inaccessible, until you get the decryption key. It increases its area to the level where cybercriminals targeted big giants but also hunted civilians and average users as well. On different social sites, a lot of people talked about the message that appeared on their devices while opening up their document, which asked them to pay a ransom in bitcoin or through another medium to get their files back in a readable format.

There are different Ransomware that belonged to separate families, which has further different variants. You need to check which family ransomware belonged to and what is the variant if you faced a ransomware attack. You can check it by looking into the extension of the encrypted file like in “picture.png” where “png” is the file extension.

Some examples of the Ransomware Attacks:

You all are well-aware of the ‘Wannacry Ransomware’ Attack of 2017. This attack was massive and infected entire devices and databases. It affected many businesses, hospitals, and other big networks across the globe. The malware didn’t leave behind banks, and mobile operators either. It affected companies in over 100 countries.

Petya ransomware was also in the news after wanna cry Ransomware, which is specifically targeted a windows-based operating system and encrypt the whole hard drive, and to make the files accessible, you need to pay some money in bitcoin.

Following these two major attacks, the FBI sent out a public-service warning about such malware. According to them, these software are getting more advanced and can penetrate larger and ‘more secure’ systems.

Pakistan has also been affected by ransomware as well. Different variants of ransomware software were found to be affecting Pakistani businesses and individuals. Over the past few months, the DRF helpline has seen a large number of calls come in regarding ransomware and a lot of them had to do with a ransomware strand called ‘Stop’.

How it Works:

Ransomware is a type of malware that anonymously injects into the digital devices that encrypts all the content stored on your hard drive, and you cannot read your files anymore. To get your files in a readable format, a decryption key is required, which will then unlock all the files. However to get that decryption key, you must pay a ransom.

This creates a bit of a dilemma. Are you going to pay money to get your files back, or are you encouraging cyber criminals so they can spread this malware to target more people?

Paying ransom itself is a bad practice because there is no guarantee that you will get your files back, and in any case. Let’s suppose if you pay money to the attacker that they asked for, there are still chances that the attacker will not have a private key, or the key they gave to you is corrupted. So paying money to the attacker is not good practice as there is no guarantee that he will unlock your content. Let’s say you successfully managed to get your data back, on the other hand, the attackers start hunting more people.

This is only the first step you have to take if you faced a ransomware attack.

The second step is that you need to disconnect the internet from your devices so it cannot do further damage to your device and don’t spread the malware within the network. After this, you have to run an anti-malware tool in your device, and if it finds anything, remove it and restart your computer. If you don’t do this step and unlock your file, the malware is still in your system, which will reactivate itself. Additionally, whenever you see a ransom note appear on your device, it would be good practice to take a screenshot and send it to experts who can help you decrypt your files.

Sometimes while running an anti-malware software, corrupted files can be deleted in order to protect your device. This leads to a permanent loss of data. To avoid this from happening, the user can create a backup of the files on an empty external hard disk in order to prevent loss of data before running the anti-malware software. Once a decryption toolkit is made for the particular ransomware that affected your device, these files can be decrypted and restored.

There are many ways an attacker can infiltrate the network or can compromise your device. Cybercriminals can exploit your device, and usually, they take advantage of outdated versions of operating systems or software installed on your device.

Avoiding Ransomware Attacks:

  • If you received any suspicious attachment within the email, do not open it until you verify the source of this email
  • Make sure you are using an updated version of the operating system or software installed your device
  • Do not install unverified software into your device
  • If you received any suspicious short link via WhatsApp or Facebook or any other platform, copy the link and open the website link and paste the link there. It will show the actual website link behind the short link. This is just good practice to identify if someone wants to trick you.
  • Do not let someone attached USB into the USB port of your device.
  • And the most important thing is to make a local backup of your data

Microsoft’s built-in ransomware protection:

Microsoft recently introduced the feature known as ransomware protection, which users can use to protect the folder they want. You can enable this feature by going into the ransomware protection section.

You can find the whole sequence below:

Setting---> windows security--->virus threat protection--->in ransomware protection section click on---> Manage ransomware protection

Below is the screenshot

You can turn the above option “controlled folder access” on and pop up will appear, which asks your permission, and then you can see the list of protected folder and can add any folder you want.

In the above picture, you can see the protected folder. This means that no third party unverified software can make changes in the folders mentioned above, thus lowering the risk of data being compromised. If any unverified application tries to make changes in the folder that is already listed in the above directory, an error will appear at the user’s end.

(Note: In order to use Window’s anti-ransomware features, you must have the most up to date versions of Windows 10.)

nomoreransom.org is the project where different IT security companies and law enforcement agencies are trying to help the people who got ransomware attacks on their devices and don’t know how to proceed further. They update their website regularly with new information on ‘trending’ ransomware attacks and software. With this, they release a decryption toolkit that can be used by victims in case of an attack. File uploading option is also available for the victim to check if there is decryption toolkit available for that specific variant. A feature on this website allows for users to upload the affected files. This feature, called the ‘Crypto Sheriff’ determines whether there is a solution. If there is, the ‘Crypto Sheriff’ will provide the victim with the solutions needed. You can access ‘Crypto Sheriff’ here

Aside from Window’s internal ransomware protection, there are multiple anti-malware tools one can use to protect their devices. One such tool is ‘MalwareBytes’. This software is able to conduct comprehensive scans and can identify threat. Additionally the software will quarantine and delete the affected files.

The DRF Helpline was established to help victims of online harassment. This includes people who have fallen victim to sensitive data leaks, and in recent times, ransomware attacks too.

The helpline can be reached at its toll free number, 0800-39393

October 17, 2019 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation expresses solidarity with students of University of Balochistan

Digital Rights Foundation expresses solidarity with students of University of Balochistan

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is alarmed by the incident of surveillance, blackmailing and harassment of female and male students in the University of Balochistan. We express solidarity with students protesting the incident and demanding accountability. The policing and surveillance of student bodies, particularly women, is condemned in the strongest possible terms and we call for strict action to be taken to ensure the dignity and safety of students on campuses across Pakistan.

Universities should ideally be spaces for critical thinking and freedom of expression, however due to neglect and regressive policies they have become spaces of harassment and repression for students. It is a well known fact that students’ bodies are regularly policed and surveilled by university administrations. Surveillance measures, justified under the pretext of safety to students were exasperated during the war on terror. Recently, CCTV cameras have been installed on campuses under the grab of anti-drug measures. It is unfortunate that the technology employed in the name of protecting students is often used to monitor and harass the very people it professes to protect. These systems of surveillance have become tools to monitor and silence dissent and political speech on campus, seen recently in the temporary expulsion of students from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, UAF for social media posts criticising the university administration.

Female, including feminised, bodies on campus are often subjected to the objectifying gaze of surveillance technology. Mechanisms and technology introduced under paternalistic logic results in the moral policing of women, restricting their right to gender expression and sexuality. Surveillance in public spaces such as campuses is rarely used to enable the freedoms of women, rather it tends to replicate paternalistic models of surveillance prevalent in private spaces, restricting their autonomy. There have been countless cases of data breaches from university databases in which women’s private information is weaponised to target and harass them. The women at the University of Balochistan know this all too well as they were blackmailed and harassed on the basis of their gender. Their consent was repeatedly violated as secret cameras installed by university administrative staff recorded videos of their activities without their knowledge.

It is imperative that we don’t look at cases of policing on campuses in a vacuum. While patriarchal norms and society inform this policing, the underlying infrastructure is laid out by authoritarian strands within the state and a global capital economy that profits from monitoring and dataveillance. This system is invested in not only creating consumers for capital but also to increasingly silence citizens by relinquishing their civil liberties.

The right to privacy is a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right and an intrinsic part of citizen’s personal liberties. The Constitution of Pakistan enshrines the right to privacy as a fundamental right in Article 14(1) stating that "[t]he dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.” The University of Balochistan case is a gross infringement upon this very fundamental right of students. The incident also highlights the lack of redressal available for ordinary citizens to hold institutions accountable for violations of privacy. The fact that Pakistan does not have a robust personal data protection law means that there is no legal mechanism available to make the constitutional right to privacy justiciable. 

While steps have been taken to investigate the incident, measures and safeguards should be in place to ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Additionally, the committee constituted by the provincial assembly of Balochistan to probe the matter lacks adequate gender representation, as only two members of the committee are women (notices to constitute the committee are attached as Annex A). We urge the government to guarantee the right to privacy of citizens by passing progressive data protection legislation. The draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications is a positive step, but the legislation of the Act should be a consultative and inclusive process. We urge that women and gender minorities be placed at the center of any effort to provide protection to citizens. We welcome the announcement by the Chief Minister of Balochistan to constitute anti-harassment special committees in all universities across the province, however meaningful implementation will require regular follow-up and investing resources into the process

Notices obtained from verified Twitter account of member of provincial assembly, Sanaullah Baloch. Mr. Baloch is also a member of the Committee.

October 17, 2019 - Comments Off on Tech & Mental Health: Are we better off?

Tech & Mental Health: Are we better off?

The digital revolution is evolving at an unstoppable pace. Alongside the unprecedented explosion of digital technology and systems, mental health is under greater pressure than ever before because there are more platforms than before, especially compared to when our parents were young there were only a few platforms such as msn, Myspace and Orkut etc. Now there is Facebook, Instagram,Twitter,TikTok,Snapchat,WhatsApp,LinkedIn, and many more. With its emphasis on big data, computing power, mobile technology, and network information, digital technology is set to transform health care also.

Social media might be a great workplace for some people but it also might cause depression and sometimes social anxiety for some other people as it shows them a  world of ease in which doing bare minimum gives what the person desires. Through social media networks the world looks so easy because they are not showing what goes on behind the scenes. We’ve seen that major chunk of the population affected by negativities online are children. Children tend to have a naive/immature thinking process or because they lack experience in general and have taken up examples from the wrong places. For the children, the people in the video are just running around and spending money but what they don't see is the planning and effort put into these things. This idealistic phenomenon creates a mindset that there is an easy way around and they don't have to care or take responsibility for their future is what stops the growth let it be in knowledge or overly.

One of the many examples from the influencer/YouTuber community which displays these attributes not entirely but to some extent, is that of a YouTuber named David Dobrik. This particular YouTuber makes daily life videos known as vlogs in which we can see him partying,spending enormous amounts of money and being friends with popular celebrities such as Charlie Puth , Kylie Jenner and Howie Mandel etc. 

The point of my emphasis is not to shame his efforts but that he himself does not put importance on what length of effort he has gone through to achieve this lifestyle he has today and since he doesn't have higher education like so many other influencers, youtubers and popular celebrities, it also creates a somewhat of a false idea of a loophole that children nowadays don't have to get educated fully and can achieve instant wealth and success with minimal effort.   

Nowadays platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have grown rapidly and there are these influencers and different types of youtubers like the one mentioned above which create this culture of superficial things but what they don’t realize is that they’re creating a culture of negativity. One of the many things which causes such pessimism is Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) which is a phenomenon that was born at the same time as Facebook and it has one of the most common negative effects of social media. This phenomenon basically is a form of anxiety that you get when you’re scared of missing out on a positive experience or emotions that someone else is getting.

It happens to everyone. You’ve been invited to go out for dinner with friends. But instead, you decide to stay back at home and get some work done. Of course you can’t help but wonder: what exactly are you missing out on? How much fun are they having without you there? Will there be inside jokes that you’re now not privy to?

This fear is fueled by your social media engagement. The more you use social networks, the more likely you are to see that someone is having more fun than you are right now. 

Instagram celebrities, if you look at the most-followed accounts on Instagram, you’ll find beautiful people wearing expensive clothes and their perfect lifestyle. All this has made Instagram toxic because it has made people conscious about each and everything about themselves. Today, body image has become an issue for both sexes. Of course, seeing perfection on a daily basis makes you conscious, you start comparing how different you look from those pictures and not everyone comes to the right conclusion in these situations.

Another phenomenon on the rise: Social media stars create negativity in the form of “cancel culture” which usually involves bullying others over a mistake or a contradiction in their view point, or due to some past actions. Although may be one of the two parties originally in an argument is doing something right but people especially children might be favoring bashing or shaming the other person  in order to be part of the popular group and not realizing the meaning behind such ordeals. This misinterpretation of such acts creates a norm which erodes a child's confidence and they start applying such behavior towards others in their life as well. 

Sometimes children justify it by saying that others do it too and become part of this illogical banter which gives a sort of an insight into a child’s mind. It tells us that he/she knows what they are doing is somewhat in the grey area. However there are some groups or social media leaders of the masses who humiliate and bully a person for his/her standpoint which differs from theirs on particular matters so then that person, mostly someone young, shuts downs his personal thought process and tries to align with the masses. 

One of the examples found online is that of Tati Westbrook (@glamlifeguru) and James Charles. A quick summary of their spat is that it came to light that James uses Tati’s rival company Sugar Hair Bears vitamins and she felt betrayed as she has a vitamin company herself and she saw James as her protege. What happened as a result of this online war is that all his negative doings came out and people started all of a sudden started hating him and he lost millions of subscribers within hours. What really aided this whole war further was the support Tati got from big-shot youtubers and her friends such as Shane dawson and Jeffree Star. All of this created this cynical atmosphere and people who didn't even know either of them started taking interest in them and it created an army and hashtags calling James Charles a liar , a bad friend and much more.

 This sort of negative behavior generates another problem which is grouping, and as the name suggests is basically people who find similar interests and viewpoints to create online groups whom sole purpose is to work on belittling those people online who differ from their stance on particular issues. 

One of many organizations working for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities is UNICEF, with the support of experts, is leading an effort to develop a data collection tool to capture information on adolescents’ mental health at a population level in low and middle income countries. Validation and adaptation of the tool in different contexts will involve a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches, including clinical validation of depression, anxiety and sociality.”

(Unicef website)

What this research by UNICEF would do is that it would aid the upcoming and existing generation to take up and create positivity let it be in the virtual or real world. Although there are organizations, such as UNICEF and  UNESCO, working for the betterment of children but we also need to take up some amount of responsibility. Parents are the key members in this development and what most parents need to realize is that things have changed drastically and technology has evolved to create more problems than before.

This know-it-all nature among the elderly has created distance among the parents and kids. This makes children think “what do my parents know about my experience? They did not go through something like this.” Parents should leave behind attitudes such as that they know best or that their experience as a child can explain the present. Parents need to meet their children halfway as well, get at level of their children and make an effort to learn what is going on. They need to be the ones with the change in such situation sometimes because if parents shut down or leave the problem for next day that makes a child conscious about his/her online and real life issues and its importance to their parents. What parents should do is take out time in such situations and implement some measures and rules in their respective household. Measures like restricting their time on the internet, to try to find out what they are doing in general by engaging in meaningful conversation and talking about whether they need help regarding things. Although these measures might seem small but they make a huge difference in the longer term. The impact they hold is that the child knows that if he/she needs help regarding anything he/she could seek it and they would not be put down and also  in this way the parents can get to know what is happening in the child’s online world and their viewpoints and their intake from a negative or positive issue. In such a situation the discussion could give strength to a child because if his/her standpoint is fair no matter what the other one says they would know that they are doing the right thing due to a parent/elderly’s support.

This article on mental health and technology is written by our lovely intern Priya Zaidi who is doing her A-levels currently.

October 09, 2019 - Comments Off on Your Data, Your Rules

Your Data, Your Rules

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), in its landmark judgement has held that the controversial “right to be forgotten” requests from within the European Union can lead to removal of information only within the EU and does not apply globally.

Initially, in 2016, Google had filed an appeal against the decision of CNIL, French privacy watchdog, which required Google to remove information under the right to be forgotten from search engines globally. The ruling now means that tech companies will have to use geo-blocking to comply with removal requests under the right to be forgotten.

Digital Rights Foundation and 12 other NGOs also joined the petition to argue that a singular law or state should not be able to determine what kind of information is included or excluded in another part of the world as this will become a major threat to freedom of expression, activists or organisations working against human rights violations in their respective countries or even advocating for progressive changes in the society.

The court also recognised concerns about how the right to free speech or expression and the right to be forgotten is not being used in balanced or fair approach in multiple states which has the potential for serious implications on the society.

The court said,

“…it should be emphasised that numerous third States do not recognise the right to de-referencing or have a different approach to that right. Moreover, the right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right, but must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality… Furthermore, the balance between the right to privacy and the protection of personal data, on the one hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world.”

The Digital Rights Foundation along with 12 other organizations appeared as petitioners represented by barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Jude Bunting and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, along with avocat Thomas Haas.

On this petition, all the petitioners strive to protect basic human rights including the right to freedom of speech.

October 09, 2019 - Comments Off on Internet Wins

Internet Wins

There have been multiple incidents reported regarding Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocking websites without following legal procedures. When websites and platforms have been blocked, there is no opportunity to challenge these decisions by PTA.

On 12th of September 2019, the Islamabad high court issued a detailed order regarding these blockages as a response to a petition filed by Awami Workers Party, a left-wing political party registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). PTA had blocked AWP’s website in the middle of their election campaign without any prior notice, warning or legal grounds. The AWP sees this action as another attack on progressive voices in the country which are only trying to exercise their constitutional and democratic rights by becoming a part of the electoral process. 

During the hearing, IHC shared that it was not just AWP but over 800,000 other websites have been blocked by PTA. AWP Islamabad’s information secretary, Shahzeb stated that they were surprised to see how the document which was supposed to explain why PTA took this action was missing from the document PTA submitted in the court. He also said that PTA admitted to not following rules established before taking any such action according to Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016. 

It also interesting to see how section 37 PECA 2016 allows blocking of content which is against “glory of lslam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality” but does not define what any of these phrases, such as “glory of Islam”, mean. Using such vague and broad criteria for online censorship violates the basic principles of free speech enshrined in article 19-A of the constitution which ensures the right to freedom of expression and information.

In the landmark judgement which is seen as the victory for internet in Pakistan, IHC also stated PTA’s practice of blocking websites as violation of principles of natural justice. Taking a closer look at the whole process also puts light on how the state, while trying to hide how it has been violating the social contract it has with the citizens has been trying to silence the people and organisations being critical on issues while voicing their concerns through digital platforms. 

The court has also ordered PTA to work with the government to form better and more transparent mechanisms and rules within three months. 

“After going through the whole experience of this case and being politically affected by the actions by PTA in the name of alleged hate speech, AWP has realised how digital rights and spaces hold and immense importance hence, they will soon be planning an awareness campaign for citizens on how reclaiming digital spaces is equally important as organizing the masses around human rights and other socio-political questions” said Shahzeb, information secretary AWP Islamabad. 

October 04, 2019 - Comments Off on 66 women’s rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups endorse statement on internet blackout in Kashmir

66 women’s rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups endorse statement on internet blackout in Kashmir

66 women's rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups in Pakistan have endorsed a statement condemning the internet and communications blackout in Kashmir. The statement condemns the blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, movement and peaceful assembly by the Indian government through a blanket network and internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir since the evening of August 4, 2019. The nature and scope of this shutdown is particularly alarming, however it is part of larger pattern of regular shutdowns in the disputed region; in 2019 alone 51 internet shutdowns have been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. The right to access communication networks is an important prerequisite to the exercise to other democratic and fundamental rights, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been systematically denied these rights.

The statement also condemns the uneven application of community guidelines and content regulation by social media companies such as Twitter to silence users critiquing the official narrative of the Indian government and amplifying the voices of Kashmiris on the ground. Access to communication networks during times of conflict and political turmoil is particularly important to prevent further human rights violations and arbitrary measures. The statement has been endorsed by human rights organisations such as Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS), Digital Rights Foundation as well as collectives such as Aurat March (Lahore and Karachi) and Women’s Action Forum (Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad). International organisations such as Freedom Forum Nepal NetBlocks, Internet Sans Frontières and Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) have also endorsed the statement.

Women Journalists’ Residency Retreat

DRF, with FPU’s support, hosted a three-day residency retreat in Nathia Gali for women journalists from across Pakistan. The retreat focused on fun team building exercises, gender sensitisation and expert support in multiple areas such as mindfulness and stress management. Journalism as a field has the reputation of involving high-pressure and stressful work and can cause work-related stress, depression and anxiety but these are not treated with the same seriousness as more tangible risks. The retreat allowed the participants to share their experiences and the challenges they face in the field of journalism in de-stressed environment away from their day-to-day work lives. The sessions on stress management included relaxation activities such as yoga and trust circles. The retreat also aimed at strengthening the network as a support mechanism for the members. 

Consultation: “Due Diligence Project: Online Violence against Women"

DRF, in collaboration with the Due Diligence project, conducted a focus group discussion with women’s rights organisations within Lahore to discuss online harassment and the mechanisms associated with addressing harassment in digital spaces. The participants included members from AGHS, ASR, HRCP, WISE, UN Women and the Women’s Development Department. DRF will continue its collaboration with the Due Diligence project through assistance with undertaking the 5 country research in Asia Pacific on online violence against women.

Workshop on Online Harassment at Fatima Memorial

DRF conducted a workshop at the NUR Student Leadership Program with young students on the subject of online harassment and digital freedoms. The audience consisted of young students who engage with online spaces on a daily basis.

Participation in HRCP’s focus group discussion on social citizenship

DRF participated in Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)’s focus group discussion on the intersection of human rights and social citizenship within a Pakistani context. DRF raised issues of online spaces as sites of political participation and exclusion.

Meeting with Member of National Assembly, Maiza Hameed

A delegation from DRF met with member of the national assembly Maiza Hameed who is part of the Committee on Information Technology. Maiza was briefed on matters of data protection and performance of the NR3C, FIA. The MNA expressed her intention to ensure that protections for privacy were strengthened in the form of a personal data protection law.

TDEA Advocacy Workshop

DRF participated in advance advocacy workshop which was organised by TDEA at Islamabad. The two day workshop was focused on the collaboration of the gender and other minorities to work along for the advocacy of recommendations of the electoral rights in Pakistan. 

The three groups that were primarily focused on was transgenders, person with disabilities and women.The participants of the workshop were transgender rights activists, person with disabilities rights activists and women rights activists who were invited from all over Pakistan.

September 27, 2019 - Comments Off on Qandeel Baloch case judgement: The crime of Covey

Qandeel Baloch case judgement: The crime of Covey

Honour killing is a collective crime, a crime that unifies the patriarchal: legal apparatuses and structures, society and the family system.

When Qandeel Baloch was murdered in the name of honour by her own brother in 2016, the question of her getting justice felt urgent and immensely important. Qandeel was murdered as a direct result of asserting her sexuality online, the visibility had cost her, her life. In the wake of her death, many women identified with what she represented: a working class Pakistani woman who asserted herself.

After more than three years of the investigation and trial of Qandeel Baloch’s honour killing, the Model Court in Multan sentenced Muhammad Waseem to 25 years of imprisonment under section 311 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The other accused in the case stood acquitted, including her brothers Aslam Shaheen and Muhammad Arif as well as Haqnawaz, Muhammad Mufti Abdul Qavi, Abdul Basit and Muhammad Zafar. The judge endorsed the prosecution’s case for Muhammad Waseem, relying on his judicial confession and DNA evidence.

On the other hand, the other accused, such as Haqnawaz who also confessed to the crime, were acquitted as the judge deemed their confessions as extra-judicial and the recoveries made insufficient corroborative evidence. This speaks to the gaps in the investigation and prosecution, a trend common in cases of gender-based violence. Although Multan has been the beneficiary of support in terms Violence Against Women Center (VAWC) since Qandeel’s murder with the aim of improving investigation and prosecution, there is a serious need to replicate and institutionalise these efforts. It is essential that investigations and prosecution proceedings account for the integral role co-conspirators play in a crime. They might not be the hands that strangle the throat but they definitely are the patriarchal voices that enable those hands.

It is important to note that while Qandeel’s parents attempted to pardon the accused Waseem and Aslam Shaheen through a section 345 CrPC application, the application was declined by the judge. Violence against women’s bodies is a crime against society, a violation felt by all women. The judgment emphasises that this was not a case of blind murder but rather a result of perceived disrepute on the family honour. It is important to acknowledge that violence against women’s bodies is not gender-neutral, but as a result of their gendered bodies and their place within the patriarchal structure--the acknowledgment of her murder as honour crime goes a long way in achieving this. Additionally, Qandeel’s case struck home for us as she reclaimed online spaces to assert her sexuality; in a society where women have limited access to public spaces, the importance of women’s right to pleasure is a political and feminist cause.

We would agitate the state to appeal the acquittals of the accused immediately. Additionally, we petition the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) to pursue the appeal with urgency and care. We placed our faith in state institutions to deliver justice for Qandeel, and the fact that it took three years for her trial to end speaks volumes of the delays and obstacles to justice inherent in our judicial system. We also call for police reform based on investigation of gender-based crimes to improve the process of evidence collection, recovery and prosecution of these crimes so that justice is served fully in future cases. Lastly, the pressure on Qandeel’s parents and their vulnerability in the face of lack of financial support meant that they recanted their support for the prosecution, despite nominating their sons themselves in the initial reporting of the case. More needs to be done to provide support and protection to families of victims who are left behind, to shield them from political and social pressure as well as economic coercion.

Qandeel Baloch case judgement

BRIEF OF FACTS & JUDGEMENT