March 31, 2020 - Comments Off on 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

                                                                                                    

We are currently in unprecedented times. As the world moves away from public and shared spaces into isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic; technology has become a crucial link between us and the outside world. There is no doubt that technology is an enabling tool, ensuring connectivity, access to life-saving information and indispensable to fighting the Coronavirus. However, Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi posit that an uncritical embrace of technology should not ignore the fact that access to these technologies is still a luxury for many and provision of internet is very low in countries such as Pakistan.

In light of the rapid shift to digital services during a global pandemic, Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi make the following demands:

  1. We urge the government, businesses, and civil society to recognise internet access as a basic fundamental right. This was recognised by the United Nations as far back as 2011 when the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stated that all member states have an obligation to ensure unrestricted access to the internet. It is only when we understand the issue of internet access as one of fundamental human rights can we take measures to ensure access on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.
  2. We call on internet service providers to lower the cost of internet packages; conversely, increasing rates during a pandemic is unconscionable and amounts to profiteering during a public emergency.
  3. We urge all essential service providers making the switch to digital to conduct urgent human rights audits to assess the impact on their customers and take steps to mitigate the disadvantages that accrue to their most marginalised users and beneficiaries. 
  4. We demand that educational institutions cancel all online classes till physical lessons are possible. Given the state of budget cuts in the education sector and the possibility of fee hikes, we believe that the education sector is currently not equipped to switch to digital classrooms without excluding a significant part of the student population. 
  5. We demand an immediate end to the mobile internet shutdown imposed in ex-FATA territories and parts of Balochistan. 
  6. We also demand that the Pakistan Telecommunity Authority (PTA) works with internet service providers to increase the bandwidth capacity of the nation’s internet, as the increased load on the existing infrastructure could lead to slow-downs and unreliable access at a time when the internet is tied to essential services. 
  7. We petition the state and businesses to invest in public WiFi hotspots, during these times, in high population density areas; however free WiFi should not come at the cost of users’ privacy and stringent privacy policies and protocols need to accompany these measures. 
  8. For communities that lack infrastructural access to the internet, we urge the government to provide tools and information about setting up community inter and intranet systems to ensure access on an emergency basis. 
  9. We call upon government and private internet service providers to provide personal protection equipment for employees who carry out their duties for smooth provision of the internet to citizens.
  10. We call upon the government and telecom industry to utilise the Universal Services Fund, which was established by the government to support development of telecommunication services in unserved and underserved areas using annual contribution from telecom companies, to improve access to the internet. A more targeted approach towards specific population groups through the use of disaggregated indicators — that accounts for intersectionality across factors such as age, religion, disability, economic position and gender — can positively impact the ability of various social groups to exercise their rights online and help bridge the digital divide

Unequal access to the internet is a multifaceted issue: it is infrastructural - many communities in Pakistan do not have physical access to the internet; economic - broadband internet is not affordable for large segments of the population and many can only afford limited mobile internet packages; and social - factors such as gender and being differently-abled can limit one’s access to technologies.

Internet access in Pakistan stands at around 35 percent, with 78 million broadband and 76 million mobile internet (3/4G) connections. According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2019, Pakistan fell into the last quartile of index countries, ranking 76 out of a 100; particularly low on indicators pertaining to affordability. 

As more services move from offline to digital, it is becoming clear that the digital gap is an urgent issue of human rights. Internet access is undercut by structural inequalities such as class, gender, location, ability, and ethnicity. 

Gender:

In Pakistan, the digital gender divide is among the highest in the world. According to the GSMA “Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019”, Pakistan had the widest mobile ownership gender gap as women were 37 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone due to economic inequality and patriarchal attitudes. 

Location:

Additionally, mobile internet (often the most affordable mode of access) has been shut down in parts of Balochistan and ex-FATA due to generalised security reasons. Even for areas that do have access, internet speed varies based on one’s location. For instance, internet speed in Gilgit-Baltistan is significantly slower than internet speed in urban centers of Punjab and Sindh. Lastly, internet access is often linked to an uninterrupted and reliable electricity supply. Loadshedding in several parts of the country can go upto 16 to 18 hours a day, often during the day when virtual classes and official work takes place.

Education:

Students across Pakistan have been protesting against the shift to online classrooms, rightly pointing out that as students from less urban centers move back home, they either lack access to high-speed internet, or no internet at all. Many students might have to travel long distances to access the internet just to attend one lecture, a reality that disadvantages students belonging to non-urban areas and lower-income backgrounds. Furthermore, the move will result in double discrimination for female students in such situations who often lack access and mobility due to their gender.  The move to online classes, though neutral at a policy-level, becomes discriminatory, given the disparate impact in the context of a country like Pakistan. 

Employment:

As offices across the nation have closed due to social-distancing measures mandated by the government, workers are being asked to work from home. However, work from home has significant implications for homes that do not have broadband connections or cannot afford internet packages at a time of immense financial uncertainty. Furthermore, lower-income families either do not own digital devices or they are shared by the entire family unit; this means that families with more than one member working from home or students with online classes will be forced to make a choice.

Access to Information:

Being deprived of the internet during a public health emergency creates a hierarchy in terms of access to information. Dissemination of vital information regarding preventive measures, government announcements relating to lockdowns, and public health campaigns are now being done on social media. However without access to an affordable and fast internet connection, this places a majority of communities and segments of society into an informational blackhole. This information can be especially crucial for healthcare workers in communities that are not well-connected. Additionally, information flow in the age of the internet is often two-way, meaning the vital data and stories about the impact of the Coronavirus on cut-off communities will not find their way onto mainstream social media.

As the government uses mobile-based applications to disseminate information about the virus and distribute rations of basic necessities, the most marginalised will be left behind. While financial institutions are making their internet banking more accessible and waiving transfer charges, those who rely on cash transfer services such as easy-paisa are unable to access them due to closure of shops and social distancing practices. 

During these times, the digital divide will exasperate the existing structural inequalities in society as services and resources will concentrate among the already connected, leaving behind those who are most vulnerable to economic and social upheaval.

March 31, 2020 - Comments Off on THE COLOMBO DECLARATION (March 6th 2020)

THE COLOMBO DECLARATION (March 6th 2020)

We, South Asian feminists[1] across generations, who gathered together in Colombo, in solidarity with each other, and who remain deeply concerned about developments in our region that defy the basis on which we waged anti-colonial struggles; and with a desire to build independent, modern States that respect the freedom, equality and dignity of all our peoples, do hereby declare that:

Whereas we are cognizant of the developments in the field of gender studies and feminist research on sex and gender in the past two decades and the evolving nature of such debates, we therefore state that when we say ‘women’ we understand the term to mean all those affected by violence and discrimination on the basis of their gender, gender identity, and gender expression;

Whereas, feminism is a struggle for equality as well as a critical approach that challenges individuals, patriarchal structures and systems of power that entrench colonialism, discrimination, exploitation and violence. Feminism also recognizes the diversity among women, and that we experience life at multiple intersections including nationality, race, religion, ethnicity, disability and ability, sexual orientation, class and caste;

STRUGGLE AGAINST AUTHORITARIANISM, EXTREMISM AND MAJORITARIANISM

Whereas we are deeply disturbed by the tendency of many of our governments towards religious and ethnic intolerance and extremism, heavy-handed majoritarianism and authoritarian styles of leadership and governance, supported by the threat of thuggery and violence where dissent, pluralism and difference are not tolerated;

Whereas we are also concerned about increasing extremism among some religious and ethnic groups, with major repercussions for women, whereby women’s rights and freedoms are denied in a fundamental sense and their bodies, rituals and attire become compulsory and contested symbols of identity;

Whereas militarization and securitization have become an integral part of governance in our region, severely affecting every aspect of our lives and where old and newer forms of surveillance threaten the basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitutions and international instruments;

Whereas violence is sometimes seen as the preferred option in dealing with conflict and crime; where habitual and brutal violence at the personal, community, and sectarian level, including violence against women, online and on-ground, rarely draw censure, as this violence often results in impunity and has the tacit support of the authorities concerned;

WOMEN, THE LAW AND JUDICIAL PROCESS

Whereas women, who have a complicated relationship with the law as we call on it to protect our rights, but is, at the same time, used to contain and punish us, we are, nevertheless, concerned that the rule of law in our countries is heavily compromised by lack of access and unequal structures, and within those structures, by rampant impunity, and political interference. A climate of fear is created whereby the police, prosecutors and the courts are unable to function with full independence, resulting in a lack of judicial accountability;

Whereas women’s claims for justice at national, regional and international levels are sometimes articulated from a pure law and order perspective, without respect for human rights principles, which we believe must be the framework that always guides our actions;

WOMEN’S ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS

Whereas women, especially dalits and  women of indigenous communities, remain the most marginalized when it comes to economic and social power, where women’s fight for land and economic rights is a constant struggle making them targets of violence by the State, corporations, and dominant castes and communities;

Whereas the “corporatization” of the State and society has led to an unhealthy nexus between governments, the private sector and the military, resulting in public services and programmes that enhance equality being routinely sidelined, in the interests of large development and infrastructure projects that are motivated by huge profits for corporate groups, often aided by the corruption of public officials;

Whereas neoliberal policies have led to corporate capture of the State and its institutions and where such capture has harmed women in multiple ways, from the loss of public services to multiple forms of exploitation, such as of women’s labour, and of natural resources that are commonly held by people or communities;

Whereas we are concerned about the practice by our states of accumulation by dispossession of land, including the land of indigenous peoples, local farmers, and urban low-income communities, recognizing the creation of a ‘precarious’ class, often due to migration from rural to urban areas with little or no access to public services and social protection;

Whereas we are deeply disturbed by the proactive engagement of the large, powerful segments of the private sector in supporting authoritarianism in our societies, and where increasing dependence on private-public partnerships enable the State’s abdication of its responsibilities towards the provision of services and the safeguarding of rights;

Whereas the international discourses on ‘gender equality’ and ‘women’s empowerment’ are increasingly co-opted and used by our governments and corporations to strategically digress from serious issues of rights violations for which they should be held responsible;

Whereas programmes for micro finance have been relatively successful in some countries, in others they have resulted in crippling debt, increasing poverty and violence, and, in extreme situations, driving women to suicide;

CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Whereas climate change and environmental degradation remain a central concern of feminists, requiring immediate action by the State, including effective legislation, policies and programmes informed by research and analysis, and State responsibility in holding itself, corporations and other non-state actors accountable for violations;

Whereas introducing environmental laws and development programmes should be undertaken through consultations with local communities and indigenous peoples to ensure that women’s lives and livelihoods are not negatively impacted;

DIGITAL AGE, INTERNET AND THE SOCIAL MEDIA

Whereas the digital age has produced new technologies of communication that have given us opportunities for connecting and mobilizing, they also allow for the collection of data that infringe on our privacy and expose us to increased surveillance and harassment by the State, corporations and non-state actors;

Whereas we are disturbed by the fact that our region has the highest rate and longest duration of internet shutdowns, used as a tool of control by the securitized State, resulting in the loss of information, and isolating and crippling whole communities;

Whereas hate-speech is rampant across the media, including social media, in South Asia, becoming a major instrument for violence and the destruction of the social fabric. Large platform-providers must be held accountable for their platforms becoming sites of hate, while ensuring that the principle of freedom of expression is protected;

Whereas internet regulation in the name of protecting women has been weaponised to target journalists, human rights defenders, women survivors of violence, and has resulted in the curtailing of freedom of expression, dissent, the right to privacy and pleasure, and the freedom of movement and assembly;

GLOBAL AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Whereas global and regional developments have placed South Asia at the epicentre of the struggles for dominance and hegemony, and where the fight against “violent extremism” has led to international security practices that seriously violate human rights and where these practices are shared and copied by nation-states;

Whereas the porous borders that have defined South Asian history have now become sites of imprisonment due to brutal violence and/or immigration policies; where exclusionary practices sanctioned at the highest levels aim at denying people citizenship, and where statelessness that denies individuals basic rights and services provided by the modern nation-state has become an important concern;

Whereas a rules-based system of international law and relations is no longer a goal or an ambition of the more powerful states, therefore international networks of solidarity among progressive individuals and groups are essential to counterbalance the deal-making and real politiking of our governments;

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND OF ARTISTS

Whereas freedom of expression is being severely curtailed by persecution or self-censorship, but journalists and artists in all spheres are struggling bravely against many odds to express themselves in extraordinarily creative ways, to represent and transcend the reality that we are all faced with;

SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

Whereas some nation-states in South Asia have attempted to recognize sexual and gender diversity, and plurality, others continue to criminalize, ostracize and discriminate against those of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity, often resulting in violence, stigma and discrimination;

Whereas our sexual and reproductive rights are constantly challenged, and where bodily integrity and autonomy continue to be denied and are under attack at the global, national and community levels;

MISOGYNY AND RESURGENT PATRIARCHY

Whereas cultures of misogyny and a resurgent patriarchy, spurred on by extreme right-wing politics, entrench the inequality of women and welcome and valorize that inequality, threatening to push back the gains achieved by successive generations of women’s activism and movements;

Whereas women are affected by all these developments in a specific and distinct way and where their struggles for political representation, violence against women, equity in personal laws and equality in all spheres, must be understood in the context of national, regional and global realities challenge the basic values on which feminist movements were founded;

Whereas on the occasion of our coming together, recognizing the realities that face us, we, feminists of South Asia, gathered in Colombo on March 5 and 6, 2020, hereby pledge to:
  1. Unite across all religions, genders, ethnicities, classes, castes and all forms of identity, while recognizing our differences, to fight for the equality and freedom of all people in South Asia to live a life of dignity and respect, free from discrimination;
  2. Respect and celebrate the diversity of our peoples, recognizing that many intra-community struggles need to be waged to ensure the equality of women, but where political, legal and administrative systems must enable and strengthen a recognition and acceptance of this diversity;
  3. Create regional and international networks of women in solidarity to contest and challenge the growing tide of majoritarianism, religious extremism, authoritarianism and a climate of fear in our region;
  4. Condemn in the strongest terms wanton and brutal communal, caste and sectarian violence against women, minorities, indigenous peoples, and vulnerable communities as well as the weaponization of the “riot” as a means of control.
  5. Hold states accountable for the torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing of individuals and prisoners, and for the impunity that is granted and sometimes attaches to all those who commit such acts.
  6. Resist the militarization and securitization of our states, and expose the disproportionate use of force (in accordance with international humanitarian law) by the military, as well as the military take-over of civilian administration and economic enterprises;
  7. Support local and regional struggles to strengthen legal and judicial processes by protecting and amending Constitutions as necessary, pushing for progressive legislation and ensuring that the judiciary and independent commissions are given full protection. We also urge that all the countries of South Asia have functional independent commissions on women as a step towards securing women’s rights;
  8. Work with women lawyers, human rights defenders and their networks to fight impunity, to ensure that rule of law processes truly result in justice, to highlight the need for judicial accountability, to especially support victims of injustice and discrimination and to supplement such legal action with political and social campaigns. Protecting human rights defenders, insisting on gender-just laws and, where necessary, gender-neutral laws must also be an essential part of this work;
  9. Recognize the importance of waging feminist struggles not purely from a law and order perspective but from a human rights framework and to recognize intersectionality, including intersections of nationality, race, religion, ethnicity, disability and ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, class and caste;
  10. Strengthen communities affected by global and national policies resulting in gross inequalities by insisting on a more egalitarian economic and social order, the provision of basic services, and by challenging systems and practices of discrimination and exploitation;
  11. Recognize the damage that has already been done to the natural environment and to work with national and global climate justice activists, indigenous peoples and all affected communities to adopt laws, policies, programmes and systems of accountability to ensure the survival of the planet and the promise owed to succeeding generations;
  12. Encourage women activists and technology communities to use their digital platforms for progressive causes, and to support their work on digital rights, fight for the protection of our data and against hate-speech and hate communities;
  13. Prioritize community concerns and support women – with their informed consent – to be a part of decision-making that affects their lives;
  14. Reclaim the “international community” as global networks fighting for the rights of individuals and peoples, leading to the transformation of existing international institutions and practices to make them more inclusive and participatory;
  15. Work towards recreating value for a rules-based international system, with the expectation that feminist movements everywhere will take a lead in making this happen;
  16. Ensure that the fight against “violent extremism” does not result in draconian measures, arbitrary security-force activities, and mass incarceration. Platforms on counter-terrorism and bilateral and multilateral support for military establishments must be founded on the principles of human rights.
  17. Ensure that the concerns of the women of the Global South, our call for justice, the need for forward-looking plans for economic independence and recovery, as well as women’s participation in the decision-making processes in prevention, protection, peacemaking and peace-building, are represented in international relations and global security agendas;
  18. Enable and support women artists and writers in their creative work to reclaim memory, represent women’s histories, and transcend boundaries, and ensure that education in structural spaces such as schools, museums and galleries, be expanded to include informal extra curricular activities in the form of plays, storytelling, video-making, and varied art activities;
  19. Celebrate the many past and continuing achievements of women’s movements, and invest in the multi-generational harnessing of collective power on platforms where activists across levels of experience can connect, organize and transform, building upon existing knowledge and momentum;
  20. Reiterate and struggle at all levels for the foundational values of feminist movements, movements which have for over two centuries challenged systems of hierarchy and fought for freedom, equality, respect for all, and the dignity of persons.
[1] This declaration is a result of a brainstorming and an inter-generational dialogue among participants from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, who had indicated a prior interest in drafting a common Declaration.  We wish to also acknowledge past conferences and movements of the 1980s and the 1990s that brought together South Asian women from all countries to fight for equality and justice.

March 19, 2020 - Comments Off on Launch of reporting portal to combat online child sexual abuse material in Pakistan

Launch of reporting portal to combat online child sexual abuse material in Pakistan

Soon

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) in collaboration with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children are launching a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan.

The IWF is the UK-based charity responsible for finding and removing online child sexual abuse material. The new portal will allow people 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. The portal will be the 33rd portal set up around the world to fight the spread of online child sexual abuse material.

The launch had been 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 virus, it was decided a “virtual” launch would be the best solution.

The IWF’s Chief Executive Susie Hargreaves said: “We have decided that, despite the strain that the current pandemic is putting on business, resources and life in general, it is still important to give global citizens a reporting options for child sexual abuse material online and not to delay.

“Therefore, we have opted to proceed with the launch, which shall be completely virtual. The in-person launch event was postponed, but we may hold a virtual meeting of delegates from Pakistan via Zoom instead.”

The IWF’s International Development Manager Jenny Thornton had been preparing to travel to Islamabad to attend the launch. She said that, despite the travel bans, there must be no delaying what could be a “significant” move for children’s online safety.

Ms Thornton said: “Pakistan is the fifth biggest country in the world by population, and 35% of their people are children.

“As a country, it has the world’s second highest number of children who are not in school, and that is estimated at 22.8 million children under 16 not going to school. We are talking about a lot of kids here, so the potential for this portal to keep more children safe online around the world is significant.”

Nighat Dad, Executive Direct of DRF said: "In Pakistan, child sexual abuse was considered as a taboo for far too long, making any serious and concerted action against it very difficult.

“However in the last five years, high profile cases have generated public outrage and support for action against these issues.

“Online Child Sexual Abuse currently is criminalised under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, through the offence of child pornography, however the country currently lacks the infrastructure to proactively takedown material relating to Online Child Sexual Abuse.

“This portal seeks to bridge that gap by creating a cross-platform, technological solution for reporting material within Pakistan to protect survivors of sexual abuse from getting re-traumatised and help make the internet safer for children and young adults."

The new portal is funded by the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children. It can be found at https://report.iwf.org.uk/pk

For more information log on: https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/.

#EndOnlineChildAbuse

For more information contact:

Shmyla Khan

Project Manager, shmyla@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

March 19, 2020 - Comments Off on DRF in collaboration with the World Economic Forum conducted the Mobilizing and Inspiring Action with Technology 2020

DRF in collaboration with the World Economic Forum conducted the Mobilizing and Inspiring Action with Technology 2020

WEF

Digital Rights Foundation and the World Economic Forum in collaboration with institutional partners hosted a first of its kind event in Kathmandu from February 19-21, 2020. This event brought together participants from across South Asia and the rest of the world to discuss the implications of digital and emerging technologies for organizations promoting advocacy and mobilizing people-powered action in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

DRF Collaborated with PJA on hosting a session addressing online gender based violence with Punjab Judicial Academy (PJA) in a conference on Cyber Law


DRF took part in the Punjab Judicial Academy (PJA) titled “Cyber Law” and hostes a panel titled “Digital violence against gender-based marginalised communities” in collaboration with PJA. The conference was attended by the Lahore High Court Chief Justice, Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed. The conference was attended by nearly 300 judges and included both local and international experts.

DRF Executive Director, Nighat Dad spoke at the conference on ‘Social Media And Ways To Promote Freedoms And Protect Activists’

https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/19/02/2020/Call-for-enhanced-coordination-between-CSOs-to-protect-digital-rights

At a talk titled ‘Identification of future activities to broaden civic spaces on social media’, Nighat Dad talked about how there is a need to bring together CSOs from across South Asia and have them work together. She said that South Asia is faced with many issues of digital rights, and working together can help bride those gaps.

DRF wins the 6th eNGO Challenge Award 2019-2020.

DRF won under the category of the best Civil Society Digital Innovator. The 6th eNGO Challenge Awards was organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation in New Delhi, India.

DRF at FNF’s panel discussion on fake news

Digital Rights Foundation participated in a panel discussion hosted by Friedrich Nauman Foundation on the launch of the urdu version of their book, “What can be done to counter Fake News?". The panel discussion was held on 22 February 2020 at PNCA during the Mother Language Literature Festival and had Maryam Saeed from DRF, Asad Baig from Media Matters for Democracy and Gulmina Bilal from Individual Land. It was attended by I.A. Rehman, Afrasiab Khattak and Fauzia Saeed among many other activists from the civil society organisations.

DRF at Human Rights Situation in Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities

Digital Rights Foundation attended a seminar on the current human rights situation in the country on 13th February organized by EU. The seminar had UN Special Rapporteur Michel Frost as the chief guest of the event. DRF also took part in NHRF Grantee workshop on 14th to 15th February in Islamabad. The workshop focused on learning and sharing of NHRF partners in the country.

Cyberbullying session in Beaconhouse Bahria Town Campus

Digital Rights Foundation conducted a seminar with students of Bahria Town O-levels around cyber bullying and harassment. Two sessions were conducted with the students on 26th February one with boys and the other with girls. The session focused on why it is important for children to keep their information personal online and the implications of cyber bullying on children.

DRF at ‘Maati Talks’ discussing Web and OTT Rules by PEMRA

Zainab Durrani represented the DRF team on a panel discussion for the web show ‘Maati Talks’ which was focused on discussing the proposed Web and OTT Rules by PEMRA and the implications of enacting said Rules on web content, content creators and the impact on the legal landscape that has the ability to curtail fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and right to information.

Training on Combating Insecurities in the Age of Digital Media Transformations


DRF organized a workshop for journalists on ‘’Combating Insecurity in the Age of Digital Media Transformations’’ in Peshawar on the  26th and 27th of February 2020. The aim of the workshop was to discuss if the existing media ethics are suitable for the evolving digital media landscape or new and diverse standards are required. Around 25 journalists from print, electronic and digital media joined and actively participated in the two-day workshop. Participants gave their input on how to tackle fake news and disinformation online, considering the low levels of digital literacy among the population in Pakistan which makes it vulnerable to all kinds of online and digital propaganda, and also discussed ways forward in developing the media industry.

Statement: DRF Condemns Citizen’s Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 as an Affront on Online Freedoms

DRF Condemns Citizen’s Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 as an Affront on Online Freedoms

Digital Rights Foundation released a statement condemning the recent ‘Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 which were notified by the Ministry of Information Technology. Click here to read the full statement.

 

 

March 13, 2020 - Comments Off on Protecting Your Digital Rights During The COVID-19 Outbreak

Protecting Your Digital Rights During The COVID-19 Outbreak

The COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt. The virus’ spread across the world has been rapid and has caused panic in almost all countries of the world, including Pakistan. While the gravity of the situation is definitely being felt in the medical field, we feel that the situation has implications on human rights, and these are implications we are simply not addressing.

With COVID-19, we’ve seen part of the fight against the disease being fought online. People across the globe are using the internet and social media to get information, to keep up to date and to track the spread of the virus. This dissemination and collection of data is unprecedented given how the digital world has grown since the last global pandemic.

Right To Privacy

Information and data regarding your Health is sensitive information. Health data is extremely personal and should only be in the hands of the individual. In situations as dire as these, it still needs to be ensured that this data is handled correctly and sensitively. In Pakistan, we are yet to enact a data protection bill, which is why it is important that ethics play a part in all fields. Details like who has tested positive, where they live and who their family are should not be leaked to the public. In times of such urgency, it is important for people to remember their rights to privacy and their right to not consent to their information being shared. 

A Rise In Racism, Xenophobia

When Pakistan confirmed its first two cases of the Coronavirus, it became public knowledge that one of the patients had recently traveled to Iran, and returned with the virus. This incited a lot of harassment against the family of the patient, moreover, a lot of people took to social media to target members of Shia sect. 

In addition to this, it has been internationally reported that there’s been a spike in racism against people who are Chinese or who hail from the Far East. Due to the CPEC project, Pakistan has been a huge influx of Chinese expats, and this trend is concerning as it could negatively affect these people’s quality of life.

Social media companies, along with the government and conventional media should work to tackle these issues and raise awareness about the disease, rather than let hatred for others take over the collective discourse.

Misinformation

Social media has been chaotic since the outbreak of the COVID-19. In the panic, people have been sharing unverified information continuously on social platforms, thereby only feeding the panic further. While the situation around the disease is of a high priority, this rampant spreading of misinformation has led to more fear and panic.It is this frantic level of misinformation that has made the WHO up their social media presence. 

In these circumstances it should be the top priority to social media companies to flag unverified information. Also they should work with the WHO and national level health agencies to spread verified information and up to date stats and data. In such circumstances, it is very easy to be swept up in panic, this panic is exaggerated on social media platforms and it is the responsibility of these companies to help control this panic.

Conventional Media 

Traditional media is equally responsible for the spread of misinformation. Media ethics and values need to play a crucial part in the reporting of this pandemic. Furthermore, stories revolving patients, their families and their treatment need to be dealt with with a lot of sensitivities, just as any other story is dealt with. 

Media regulatory bodies need to be super vigilant about the spread of misinformation as large portions of society still rely on conventional media for their information. Such a relaxed approach towards this issue can lead to hysteria and panic. The media should be used to raise awareness and give people the necessary information with which to tackle this disease.

Censorship

There have been reported incidents in both Iran and China of governments that have actively tried to suppress information about the virus getting out to the public. This is a dangerous development given that it is an attack on freedom of speech and is also an attempt to keep the public aloof of the severity of the issue at hand. Censorship is truly not the way for governments to deal with this situation. It must be tackled by collaboration, transparency and open communication. People should be able to trust their government, not doubt the information provided by them. 

The situation in Pakistan with regards to the Coronavirus is still developing. We, at Digital Rights Foundation, are keeping an eye out for the developments regarding the disease and also assessing how the digital rights sphere is being affected. We will keep posting updates as we get them.

Till then we advise all of you to take the necessary precautions against the virus.

March 05, 2020 - Comments Off on WEF and DRF conducted the Mobilizing and Inspiring Action with Technology 2020

WEF and DRF conducted the Mobilizing and Inspiring Action with Technology 2020

Digital Rights Foundation and the World Economic Forum in collaboration with institutional partners hosted a first of its kind event in Kathmandu from February 19-21, 2020. This event brought together participants from across South Asia and the rest of the world to discuss the implications of digital and emerging technologies for organizations promoting advocacy and mobilizing people-powered action in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, topics like digital rights, civic tech, transparency and governance also came under debate.

This event aimed to facilitate shared learning across regional contexts on how increasingly digitized world is moving towards shifting behaviours, creating new opportunities and the deepening challenges for the communities and stakeholders that advocates work with. The participants had an opportunity to discuss the challenges for strategic cross-sector alliances within the development sector. The Fourth Industrial Revolution was widely discussed, with attendees discussing the changes and the future threat it brings with it.

The panels ranged from focusing on Advocacy in Context: Regional Perspectives on Technology, Advocacy and People-powered movement which took a look at relevant tools and strategies that advocates are employing across different regional contexts in an increasing digital world. Additionally Nighat Dad moderated a panel titled,  Accelerating Digital Rights Conversations Beyond South Asia and Beyond, which focused on the current state of digital rights in South Asia and opportunities to deepen and accelerate the conversation across the region and within a global context.

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of DRF noted that, ‘The fourth industrial revolution brings with it various opportunities, however, it also poses different threats to different communities especially in the context of the Global South. It is important to bring digital rights groups from South Asia together to discuss the dynamics and landscapes around transparency, digital rights and advocacy so that it becomes a strong front like the Global North. Through this workshop, we were able to bring together different actors from South Asia and discuss in detail how collaborations within the community are important.’

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

Contact Person:

Nighat Dad 

nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk 

March 01, 2020 - Comments Off on NO CONSULTATION WITHOUT WITHDRAWAL OF CABINET APPROVAL OF ONLINE PROTECTION (AGAINST ONLINE HARM) RULES 2020

NO CONSULTATION WITHOUT WITHDRAWAL OF CABINET APPROVAL OF ONLINE PROTECTION (AGAINST ONLINE HARM) RULES 2020

On February 28, 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through PR No. 267 announced the formation of a committee to begin consultation on the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020. This follows the Prime Minister’s announcement to review the Rules and consult stakeholders, after the Rules drew sharp criticism locally and internationally. However, the government refuses to clarify the legal status of the Rules without which any consultation is merely token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input.

While Cabinet approval for the Rules remains in place, there can be no engagement or consultation. This only shows the government’s intent to use the consultation as a smokescreen while intending to implement and enforce the Rules already prepared and approved. The Rules as they exist, merit no discussion at all. How citizens are to be protected requires an open and informed discussion which takes into account existing procedures, laws as well as how they have been applied. The abuse of authority by the PTA and government, especially their misuse of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to stifle dissent and Section 37 of PECA in particular to report and restrict political speech, will have to be addressed first.

We also call upon tech companies to unequivocally state the terms of their engagement with the government on the Rules. Too often, citizens and end users become collateral in agreements governments and companies reach in breach of their rights, and we wish to remind them their actions will be scrutinized against adherence to global best practices and international principles to protect expression and privacy.

For the benefit of public discourse, we will continue to make public information that illustrates sensible ways of protecting citizens as well as information from comparative jurisdictions, but will not participate in any process initiated to deflect criticism and seeks to draw legitimacy to carry forth the implementation of the Rules that were devised in bad faith.

We demand the following:

– The Rules must be withdrawn by the Federal Cabinet and the decision, as documented through the process, be made public before any consultation is held

– Civil society has been categorical that Section 37 of PECA must be repealed. The consultation must begin by addressing the overbroad and arbitrary nature of Section 37 under which these Rules have been issued and review the abuse of power by the PTA and government in carrying out its functions since the enactment of PECA.

– The consultation must follow an open and transparent process. The committee must make public the agenda, process it intends to follow and clear timelines. All input provided should be minuted and put together in a report form to be disseminated for public feedback with a specified timeline which is reasonable, before which no Rules should be approved or enforced.

To see the list of signatories, view document here.

February 20, 2020 - Comments Off on Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020: Legal Analysis

Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020: Legal Analysis

The ‘Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020’ have been notified under sections of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organisation) Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 (hereinafter collectively referred to as the ‘Parent Acts’). Under these Rules, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is the designated Authority. This legal analysis will highlight the jurisdictional and substantive issues with the Regulations in light of constitutional principles and precedent as well as larger policy questions.

Summary of the Legal Analysis

Given that the Rules exceed the scope of the Parent Acts and substantively violate the fundamental/Constitutional rights, particularly Article 14 and 19, they are inconsistent and in derogation with the Constitution as well as the Parent Acts and should be immediately denotified.

 

February 13, 2020 - Comments Off on DRF Condemns Citizen’s Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 as an Affront on Online Freedoms

DRF Condemns Citizen’s Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 as an Affront on Online Freedoms

Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemns the recent ‘Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020’ notified by the Ministry of Information Technology. Digital Rights Foundation raises strong objections to the Rules as they severely restrict the freedom of expression and privacy of Pakistani citizens in online spaces. 

These Rules directly address social media companies and require them to register and locate offices inside Pakistan, particularly establish database servers in the country signaling a definitive move towards data localisation. Additionally, the rules establish a ‘National Coordinator’ to engage with the social media companies on behalf of the Federal Government. The main objective of the Rules, it seems, is to exercise greater control over digital content of Pakistani users of these platforms and social media companies. If these companies do not abide by the requests of the National Coordinator, they will face heavy fines or a total shutdown of their platforms within Pakistan. 

Moreover, social media companies are instructed to “establish one or more database servers in Pakistan within twelve months of the date of publication of these Rules to record and store data and online content, within the territorial boundaries of Pakistan for citizen data privacy” (Section 5(d)). While this is ostensibly being done to protect citizen’s data privacy, it is clear that these Rules have the potential to be used to censor the last remaining frontier of information i.e. online media and make invasions into the personal data of Pakistanis on social media.

Rationale For Condemnation 

The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, chalk out the government’s plan to centralise control of digital information and expression through one central ‘National Coordinator.’ For the following reasons, we reject these rules and believe they should be revoked:

The Rules are a blatant violation of Article 19 (freedom of speech and information) of the Constitution. They exceed the boundaries of permissible restrictions within the meaning of Article 19 and lack the necessary attributes of reasonableness. While Article 19 permits ‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of speech only in the “interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court,” the Rules require all social media companies to remove or block online content if it is, among other things, in “contravention of instructions of the National Coordinator” (Section 4). As is clear from a plain reading of Article 19, ‘contravention of instructions of the National Coordinator’ is not a purpose for which a restriction on freedom of speech may be placed and cannot be used as a benchmark to undermine fundamental rights. 

This allows the National Coordinator to regulate online content purely on its whims and wishes. Further, the Rules require Social Media Companies to remove, suspend or disable any news article that is considered, or interpreted to be, ‘fake’ by the National Coordinator; bestowing upon it unchecked powers to be exercised at convenience.

Additionally, we feel that the additional powers of the Rules go beyond the scope of the parent Acts, i.e. Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. The PTA cannot delegate powers to another authority such as the National Coordinator beyond the powers that were vested in it through the parent legislation.

Violation of Right to Privacy: 

These Rules further weaken the state of privacy in the country: Data privacy is a pre-existing issue in the country, however, given current Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act regulations, there is still a legal process through which information or data on private users can be requested. The Rules presented by the Ministry of IT completely negate the current process, giving the government total access over data and information. Section 6 of the Rules obligates social media companies to provide any information, data, content or sub-content requested by the Investigation Agency. Astonishingly, the agency is not required to go through any legal or judicial procedure to make such a request. More worrying  is the fact that the information/data requested does not necessarily have to be in connection with, or related to, any offence laid out under the Rules rather can be any information the Investigation Agency may wish to pry into. Apart from violating the fundamental right to privacy, the Rules further threaten the state of privacy of private citizens within Pakistan. Furthermore, it is alarming that section 6 requires social media companies to provide information in “decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version”, violating the reasonable expectation of privacy that citizens have when using social media and messaging applications.

Dire Consequences 

The Digital Economy will be massively affected: 

The most obvious effect of these rules will be on the digital ecosystem of Pakistan. These rules are incredibly restrictive and place immense powers in the hands of a ‘National Coordinator’. Such an atmosphere will prove non-conducive for social media companies to move to Pakistan as well as restrict the growth of Pakistan’s domestic digital economy. 

Social media has emerged as the backbone of many modern businesses, and has indeed created a new type of digital market. Many small businesses, women entrepreneurs and content creators use social media as a medium for their business. The imposition of such harsh rules will therefore not only affect individuals but also local startups and e-commerce establishments. 

Pakistan’s appeal as an investment opportunity will diminish: 

The requirement for registering with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (Section 5) and to establish a permanent registered office in Pakistan is a move towards “data localisation,” that will require every company to open an office in Pakistan before they can be granted permission to be viewed and/or create content in Pakistan. This challenges the borderless nature of the internet - a feature that is intrinsic to the internet itself. Even otherwise, forcing businesses to create a local presence is outside normal global business practice and creates a disincentive to invest within Pakistan. Such a regulation will force international social media companies to exit the country rather than invest further in Pakistan. It is unreasonable to expect companies to set up infrastructure in the country as per the Harm Rules when the nature of the internet allows for it to be easily administered remotely.

Society will begin to self-censor and important discourse will decrease: 

These Rules cannot be looked at in isolation. In a society that is faced with such massive impediments to free speech, the likely reaction that citizens end up having is to self censor themselves. People will restrict the discussions they take part in online and will also be less likely to partake in useful and productive conversations around governance and law. This will sever an important tie between the government and its people, thereby creating a massive divide between the two entities; something a democracy such as ours cannot afford. 

February 11, 2020 - Comments Off on A Win For Digital Rights In Pakistan, One Step At A Time

A Win For Digital Rights In Pakistan, One Step At A Time

We welcome the Senate Committee On Human Rights’ decision rejecting the proposed regulation on Web TV and OTT TV, while declaring that PEMRA does not have any jurisdiction over internet and digital content under the PEMRA ordinance. The Senate Committee on Human Rights conducted a briefing about PEMRA’s proposed regulations, inviting Digital Rights Foundation and other civil society organizations on Monday, 10th of February. 

The committee took notice of proposed PEMRA regulations after a strong statement issued by Digital Rights Foundation, Bolo Bhi, IRADA, Freedom Network and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, rejecting PEMRA’s regulation on the whole. Statement was endorsed by dozens of media organizations, the Women Action Forum, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Network of Women Journalists on Digital Rights, independent journalists, content creators, CSOs and feminists movements.   

The Chair of the Committee, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, objected to the proposed regulation while questioning PEMRA’s very jurisdiction over the internet and digital content. Additionally Senator Ayesha Raza commented that if PEMRA aims to ‘level the playing field’ with these regulations then traditional media needs to be incentivized to create competition, rather than curbing the digital economy. 

DRF’s Executive Director, Nighat Dad said that these regulations would mean PEMRA is threatening Pakistan’s growing digital economy and also the livelihood of  digital content creators and influencers. She pressed how these regulations would add further impediments to freedom to expression, given PEMRA’s power to declare anything as ‘illegal content’. These restrictions, she added, would be contradictory to the vision and spirit of the Prime Minister’s ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative.

Bolo Bhi’s Director, Usama Khilji, said that these proposed regulations would impact young entrepreneurs given how digital platforms are used in this modern age. He further added that these regulations would stifle the growth of the startups in Pakistan. Moreover, it was pointed out that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) has provisions to hold digital content creators and influencers accountable.

This is a big win for Pakistan not only for digital rights activists but everyone who is part of the digital economy. DRF, Bolo Bhi, Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development, Freedom Network would like to express our gratitude to each organization and individuals who signed our public statement. 

Lastly, we would like to express our appreciation to Senators Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Senator Quratulain Marri, Senator Usman Kakar and Senator Mohammad Tahir Bizenjo, for giving us all the opportunity to present our arguments and for protecting the digital rights and civil liberties of the citizens of Pakistan.