July 18, 2017 - Comments Off on The Conviction of Taimore Raza and The Jurisprudential Insight It May Provide

The Conviction of Taimore Raza and The Jurisprudential Insight It May Provide

The increasing popularity of social media and the unprecedented dependency on information technology is posing novel difficulties for Pakistan’s notoriously lethargic legal system. Furthermore, the interaction of special Anti-Terrorism legislation with modern instrumentalities of crime is testing the capacity of our judicial system to grapple with new age legal issues. The recent case of Taimore Raza, wherein an Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced him to death for committing Blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, is a good example of such an interaction.

According to the facts narrated by the judge, Raza was booked for showing hateful material on his phone to the public at a bus station in Bahawlpur. After having been informed, the police arrested him at the bus station. The police made an inventory of the items that he had on him, which included his phone, a wallet (with Irani Riyal, the significance of which shall become apparent hereunder), and bus tickets.

It is said that the material on his phone, which included pictures, was blasphemous. This material was also sent to the Islamia University, Bahawalpur, which opined that the material was blasphemous as to the Holy Prophet as well. There after, Raza was booked under Sections 9 and 11 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and Sections 295-A and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Right to Privacy

Some countries have had to delineate the extent of privacy rights that citizens have over their data. For example, the US Supreme Court has ruled that citizens have a right to privacy as to the data on their phones, and that it may not be looked into without a warrant. The external condition and characteristics of the device that contains the data does is not protected in the same manner, and may be examined pursuant to a valid arrest. This question is likely to come up before the Superior Judiciary in Pakistan soon.

This right to privacy is significant in Raza’s case because the Section 295-C charge was added to his case after the police scoured through his phone after his arrest, and without a warrant. The judgment also states that his Facebook account was logged into his phone, which is why the police was able to examine his Facebook activity. Again, this was done without a validly issued warrant.

It is to be seen whether the Superior Judiciary will extend the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy to data.

Trial for Blasphemy under Section 295-C in the Anti-Terrorism Court

The Anti-Terrorism Act creates certain new offences, and also allows the special courts established under it to try certain already existing offences which are scheduled to it. Furthermore, the Act allows the special courts to try any other offences that an accused may be charged with while it is seized with a trial pertaining to a scheduled offence. This is significant because the procedure to be followed in trials before the Anti-Terrorism courts is heavily skewed in favor of the prosecution. The Act allows for ex-parte prosecution, which is abnormal compared to the rights typically afforded to criminal defendants. The Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that evidence against the accused must be recorded in his presence. However, the Anti-Terrorism Act removes this requirement, to the detriment of the accused. It is also worth noting that various jurisdictions hold this right of the accused to be confronted with evidence against him/her to be a sacrosanct constitutional right that may not ordinarily be done away with.

Under the ATA, Section 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) is a scheduled offence and can, thus, be tried at an Anti-Terrorism Court. The maximum punishment under the provision is ten (10) years imprisonment and a fine. However, as mentioned above, the ATA also allows prosecution of other offences arising out of the same occurrence. In this situation, the other offence was Section 295-C (use of derogatory remark etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet), which carries a maximum sentence of death and a fine. The obvious problem presented here is that in the prosecution of an accused for a lesser crime without the mandatory provision of regular statutory rights, he/she may also be tried for an offence with a much higher sentence. The balance of the rights of the accused and the need for successful convictions must be thoroughly examined to arrive at a prudent compromise.

The Judgment

The opinion itself is predicated on some very worrying reasoning and judgment writing. Firstly, the judge has sentenced the Mr. Raza to death for having committed blasphemy against the Holy Prophet. However, he refused to share precisely what the content of the culpable expression was. Section 367 of the Cr.PC is a mandatory provision that requires the judge to explain the reasons for the judgment being rendered. This requires the judge to explain how every element of the crime has been met. A judge may not, as has happened in this case, merely state that he/she is satisfied in their mind that the offence has been committed without demonstrating how they have arrived at that conclusion. While it is understandable that judges may not want to reproduce blasphemous content, not doing so clouds the judicial process. This is a unique issue that lawmakers must deliberate upon to formulate policy.

The second issue pertains to some unwarranted extrapolations that the judge has made. According the judge, the recovery of a few Irani Riyals is evidence of links with sectarian outfits. This conclusion, by itself, is thoroughly unwarranted. A man of Shia faith possessing Irani Riyal may have several explanations other than the one the judge arrived at.

Ending Remarks

There is uncertainty. Pakistan has often lagged behind developed nations in matters of technology. It appears that it is also behind in matters of jurisprudence pertaining to technology related issues of law. The Constitution and laws of the country may be adequate to deal with new age issues, however, we will only be able to say that for sure after the Superior Judiciary grapples with several such issues and pronounces authoritative opinions on the matter. Till then, its best to err on the side of caution.

As far as the government is concerned, it is persevering with the policy of restraining controversial speech on social media. The Interior Minister warned of a possible complete social media ban if the population fails to self-regulate its speech and bring it within the prescribed limits. Continuing down this road, the Minister recently met with Facebook’s Vice President for Global Public Policy, Mr. Joel Kaplan in Islamabad and apprised him of his concerns and desires. It remains to be seen if Facebook will mold its policy to the satisfaction of Mr. Nisar. If it does, the government would move closer to successfully censoring the Internet as desired. As is popularly known, the Pakistan Telecom Authority has blocked scores of websites containing content that it deems blasphemous.

July 10, 2017 - Comments Off on The Internet as a Forbidden Library: Pakistan’s Clampdown Against Data Freedom

The Internet as a Forbidden Library: Pakistan’s Clampdown Against Data Freedom

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (“PECA”) was ostensibly legislated in order to combat the “growing threat of cybercrime.” The legislation provides various legal mechanisms and investigative powers by which government authorities can search and seize digital forensic evidence and information systems in order to penalize offenders. The object and reason of the bill is to “effectively prevent cybercrimes” and defend the national security of Pakistan, while also enabling secure systems for investment in IT and e-commerce.

The legislation notes that the exercise of these powers needs to be “proportionate with the civil liberty protections afforded to citizens under the Constitution.”  It claims that “The Bill also includes specific safeguards to balance against these intrusive and extensive procedural powers in order to protect the privacy of citizens and avoid abuse of the exercise of these powers.”

There is an inherent tension within any policy formulation which seeks to govern a medium of information storage, access and delivery against fundamental rights for privacy, expression and speech.

The legislation in question, both substantively and procedurally, fails to provide any safeguard for the newly enumerated powers of government.

With regards to internet access and data systems, states can be likened to librarians which engage in the conscious curation of knowledge and expressive materials. As ruled in United States v. American Library Association, “public libraries pursue the worthy missions of facilitating learning and cultural enrichment.” Towards that end, libraries subscribe to the model of providing “[b]ooks and other... resources... for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library [*] serves...To fulfill their traditional missions, public libraries must have broad discretion to decide what material to provide to their patrons. Although they seek to provide a wide array of information, their goal has never been to provide "universal coverage." (United States v. American Library Assn., Inc., 2003).

Although the case dealt particularly with the filtering of internet content within state-funded public libraries, such a role is analogous to that of the paternalistic state model which is frequently advocated by Pakistan’s lawmakers and state agencies. The reasoning goes that the internet is a harmful, obscene and blasphemous space that must be cleansed before consumption for the Islamic sensibilities of the Pakistani people (Sindhu, 2017).

Notwithstanding the manipulative and political invocation of religion for the promotion of state ideologies, the internet does require regulation and surveillance for efficient government and policing against cybercrimes such as fraud, illegal trade, extortion etc. Therefore, the state has a vested and legitimate interest in seeking to control the internet. However, the debate is to what extent and to which ends?

The most important aspect of any statutory legislation is its language and terminology, which expands or restricts the scope of its controlling provisions. The PECA 2016 is worded ambiguously enough so that it is entirely up to the discretion of an authorized offer to investigate, seize, prosecute and penalize an enumerated offender.

For instance, Sections 2-8, technically speaking, make the simple act of connecting to the internet a potentially criminal activity, with the controlling element of culpability being “dishonest intention,” a discretion left entirely to the judge. “Dishonest intention” is defined as “intention to cause injury, wrongful gain or wrongful loss or harm to any person or to create hatred or incitement to violence.” Given the religious fervour and overzealousness of state functionaries to impose injury at the slightest provocation, even the simple act of browsing a potentially controversial page on Facebook or Twitter could constitute criminal activity under the law. A simple application of “Section 4 - Unauthorized copying or transmission of data,” for instance, would make sharing a controversial meme or even downloading the page for viewing (a technical necessity for accessing any content on the internet) as a potential offence. This would result in wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice.

In effect, then, any internet activity must have the proper authorization and appropriateness. Such provisions run counter to the democratizing function of the web, meant to facilitate discourse and debate, by making it a library where content can only be consumed if the patron has the requisite permission from the proper authority, and if the content itself is deemed appropriate for viewing ab initio.

This is precisely the danger posed by the PECA, as it provides the government with both a warrant and an authority to freely designate and criminalize any political and ideological dissidents and minorities which do not align with the ideological frontiers of the state. While these constitutional guarantees have never been absolute nor unrestricted, the PECA only encourages the muzzling of these freedoms which were rarely respected by the state.

With the PECA, however, the state has an additional weapon in its arsenal to prosecute unwanted elements within society on the pretext of legitimate government regulation. While certain sections of the Act are beyond reproach and necessary for a peaceful and healthy society (such as the prevention of cyber fraud and dissemination of child pornography), the highlighted sections and their languages need to be reviewed by the apex court for being void for vagueness. Or else, if applied as it is, the PECA could become the very means by which democracy is stifled, rather than facilitated. Instead of providing a repository of knowledge, Pakistan could transform the internet into a propaganda tool where only state-ratified ideas are fit for consumption, and the rest discarded, along with their authors.

Author: Ashtar Haideri
Ashtar is an intern at DRF. He is a senior law student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and is interested in law, philosophy, and technology.

July 04, 2017 - Comments Off on Pakistan Struggles as Civil Liberties Stifle: June 2017

Pakistan Struggles as Civil Liberties Stifle: June 2017

PRIVACY UNDER ATTACK: WikiLeaks Reminds Us of the NSA/GCHQ Theft of Official Pakistani Citizen Data

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On June 6th, The Intercept and other news outlets reported on a leaked National Security Agency report that analysed Russian military intelligence’s attempts to hack electoral systems days before the United States Presidential Election in 2016. According to WikiLeaks and Assange, both the GCHQ and the NSA acquired access to the database of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to get hold of the identification records of Pakistani citizens, in order to be able to track anyone that they may suspect to be involved with terrorism. Read More...

Shmyla Khan Talks About Cyber Harassment on FM91

Shmyla Khan FM91

Shmyla Khan, represented the hardworking team of the Cyber Harassment Helpline on FM 91’s “Pakoray and Patakay” with Ahmer Naqvi on June 16, 2017. The discussion created awareness about online harassment and tips about digital security--followed by a quiz for the audience. Thank you to the team for supporting DRF!

Data Protection & Privacy in the Digital Age – Part 1: “You Are Being Watched”

Data Protection Blog cover-02

We live in what cyber space specialists call the “Golden Age of Surveillance.” As our lives become increasingly digitalized, our privacy is proportionally threatened by the onslaught of data-hungry marketers and companies interested in snooping on our behavioural preferences. Not all of us realize that with or without our consent, our lives are being tracked and gathered in a massive database of personal information by companies and government agencies. But what can we do about it? Read More...

Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan


Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas condemn the attack on Asma Jahangir’s associates from AGHS Legal Aid Cell - comprising a female lawyer and two male lawyers - inside a courtroom at the Lahore High Court yesterday morning, i.e. June 20, 2017, by a large group of about 60 to 70 lawyers. Asma and her team have been representing a poor woman who filed a petition to find her missing daughter, 26-year-old Aisha, and grandson, Alyaan. Read More...

Social Media Crackdown in Pakistan

Crackdown of social media activists continues as a Pakistani journalist, Zafar Achakzai, was arrested on June 25, 2017 in Quetta. Zafar has been accused of writing against “national security institutions” on social media and charged under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. Read More...

Taimoor Raza Sentenced To Death For Blasphemy on Facebook

Courtesy of Guardian. Photograph: Faisal Mahmood/REUTERS

Courtesy of Guardian.
Photograph: Faisal Mahmood/REUTERS

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook, the latest step in an intensified crackdown on dissent on social media, reports Guardian. Read More...

IFEX At 25: Strategy Conference & General Meeting, Montreal, Canada

IFEX at 25

June saw IFEX, the international freedom of expression network, mark its 25th anniversary in Montreal, the city in which it was founded, with the 2017 IFEX Strategy Conference and General Meeting. The theme of this year’s conference were the 3 ‘Rs’ - Rights, Resistance, and Resilience - to quote Cathal Sheerin of IFEX, “In other words, what our members fight for, the way they fight and how they endure the often relentless attacks on their work and organisations promoting our rights.”

Given the worsening state of rights across the globe in 2017, with growing repression and travel bans preventing some delegates from being able to attend, the 3 Rs carry more weight than ever, and were a recurring theme during the workshops held during the three day conference.

Digital Rights Foundation was able to to share our experiences in the struggle for digital rights, transparency, privacy and freedom of expression in Pakistan, our cyber-harassment helpline, and to present our thoughts on the Open Government Partnership that Pakistan has recently joined.

We not only established possible collaborations with potential partners, but Digital Rights Foundation is also pleased to report that we were voted to become full members of the IFEX network - a new role that will help us in our fight for digital, privacy and freedom of expression rights in Pakistan.

Access Now: How the Digital Rights Foundation is empowering women to defend their rights

Access Now

In a world where people struggle for basic human rights and are put behind bars when they fight for those rights, they confront countless challenges every day. And if they happen to be from an oppressed or minority group, those struggles grow exponentially. Individuals and organizations are working beyond borders, day in and out, to make this fight easier for those who don’t have the information or capacity to fight for themselves. DRF focuses on the right to data privacy, and the issues pertaining to gender in technology — particularly the internet. Read More...

The Rights of Pakistani Citizens in the Digital Realm

Thought Police

Free speech on social media is being actively stifled by the government. Many people have received telephone calls by the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA), requiring them to present themselves at the FIA offices. People have received notices too. There have been detentions and seizures of people’s personal electronic devices.  Most alarmingly, criminal proceedings have been instituted against an individual for expressing opinions critical of the country’s armed forces. In such circumstances, it is essential that citizens know exactly what the limits of their freedom of expression are. Read More...

Intercepting phone calls is legal, Senate body told - July 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom Division on Monday informed the Senate Committee on Delegated Legislation that intercepting telephone calls is lawful and should not be taken as a serious matter because it is practiced worldwide. Read More...

June 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas condemn the attack on Asma Jahangir’s associates from AGHS Legal Aid Cell - comprising a female lawyer and two male lawyers - inside a courtroom at the Lahore High Court yesterday morning, i.e. June 20, 2017, by a large group of about 60 to 70 lawyers. This group was present on the court premises to bully Ms. Asma’s team on behalf of Maqsood Buttar, member of Pakistan Bar Council. The presiding judge in the courtroom was Justice Abdul Sami Khan.

Asma and her team have been representing a poor woman who filed a petition to find her missing daughter, 26-year-old Aisha, and grandson, Alyaan. According to the petitioner, Aisha was secretly married to Maqsood Buttar and gave birth to his son. Both Aisha and Alyaan disappeared over 6 months ago. According to Aisha’s mother, after giving birth to Alyaan, Aisha started demanding that Maqsood treat both of them equally, like he would his other family. As a result, Maqsood was repeatedly violent and abusive towards her, up and until her disappearance, along with Alyaan’s.

Yesterday, at the Lahore High Court, 60 to 70 lawyers entered the court premises, disrupting proceedings, chanting insulting slogans and hurling abuses to address Asma Jahangir and her associates (terms such as “gashti” and “agent” were hurled at them). Noor Ejaz Chaudhry, the female associate who was present in court, was told to stay in her “aukaat” and harassed, and when her colleague, Osama Malik, came forward to defend her, he was manhandled and thrashed by some of the lawyers present. His clothes were torn apart and he was dragged out of the courtroom. All this happened in the presence of the judge, and the associates had to be given a backdoor to escape this violent scene.

The legal fraternity in Pakistan is rife with sexism, misogyny and injustice, as can be seen by such occurrences. Incidents like these happen frequently within our courtrooms and law firms. Systematic issues such as the overall lack of female judges in our higher judiciary and hostile courtroom environment makes work extremely difficult, and, at times, dangerous. Our female lawyers do not just fight legal battles; they endure horror stories every single day. The majority of men in the legal fraternity deliberately subject their female colleagues and peers to harassment in their professional lives. Let us not forget that Pakistan is the only South Asian country that has never had a female judge in its apex court, i.e. the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Moreover, as rightly pointed out by Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists, the Pakistan Bar Council has never had a female member in over 40 years of its establishment.

Bar politics and intimidation by lawyers is another problem that has impeded justice and resulted in the harassment of several litigants. The abuse of power and mobilization flies in the face of tall claims of access to justice and litigant-friendly courts. Abuse of power and violence is openly flouted by lawyers who instead of protecting and defending the most vulnerable among us, continue to misuse their power and political clout with impunity. This instance is a clear obstruction of justice and an attempt to wrongly protect lawyers within the fraternity.

There needs to be strong and categorical rulings ordering strict measures against lawyers who routinely harass women. It is extremely important to end impunity of lawyers engaging in such offensive conduct and to ensure that there are repercussions for those who deliberately engage in such behaviour. Furthermore, such measures will ensure that members of the legal fraternity are well aware of the fact that their words and/or actions represent discrimination and/or harassment. Judges need to take strict action to ensure that their courtroom is free of discrimination of any sort, and that nobody present during the hearing is mistreated. There needs to be a larger conversation, at all levels of the court system and legal fraternity, regarding the underrepresentation of women and the harassment that they face.

We stand in solidarity with Aisha’s mother, as well as Asma and her associates, and hope to find answers regarding the disappearance of Aisha and her son Alyaan. Addressing what happened yesterday, and resolving the case in question, is necessary to prevent more unfortunate episodes and miscarriages of justice like these from taking place.

#MisogynyinPkCourts #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

June 19, 2017 - Comments Off on The Rights of Pakistani Citizens in the Digital Realm

The Rights of Pakistani Citizens in the Digital Realm

Free speech on social media is being actively stifled by the government. Many people have received telephone calls by the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA), requiring them to present themselves at the FIA offices. People have received notices too. There have been detentions and seizures of people’s personal electronic devices.  Most alarmingly, criminal proceedings have been instituted against an individual for expressing opinions critical of the country’s armed forces.

In such circumstances, it is essential that citizens know exactly what the limits of their freedom of expression are. It is also important that they know their rights in case they find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

So what speech is actually prohibited?

The first FIR that has been lodged in such a case alleges a violation of Sections 20 and 24 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) and Sections 419 and 500 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Section 20 - “Offences Against Dignity of Natural Person” of the PECA prohibits intentional public expression of false information online that has been made to intimidate a person, or to harm his/her reputation, or violate their privacy. It is important to note that this section appears to prohibit such speech made in relation to a human being, and not an organization or institution.

Section 24 - “Cyberstalking” prohibits doing the following four things online if they are done with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass a person: i) following a person, contacting, or trying to contact a person despite clear indication of disinterest by such a person, ii) monitoring a person’s internet use, emails, text messages, or any other form of electronic communication, iii) watching or spying on a person in a manner that makes them fearful, seriously alarmed, or distressed, d) taking a photo or making a video of a person and distributing it online without their consent. As with Section 20, this section also only concerns conduct relating to humans and not organizations or institutions.

Cheating a person by pretending to be someone else, or concealing your real identity is criminalized through Section 419 - “Punishment for cheating by personation” of the PPC. To be convicted of this provision, a person must cause some sort of damage, or do something that is likely to cause damage to the person being cheated. This provision is likely to be relevant when a person uses a fake profile to cheat someone.

The last provision that has been used by the FIA in its FIR is Section 500 - “Punishment for Defamation” of PPC which pertains to criminal defamation. This section criminalizes expression concerning any person that has been made with the intention to harm, or knowing, or having reason to believe that the imputations being made will harm their reputation. This provision also prohibits speech pertaining to organizations and institutions. However, good faith comments pertaining to the public conduct of public servants, and conduct of any person touching any public question are allowed.

As evident from the discussion above, good faith criticism of state instrumentalities does not seem to be prohibited. However, before the superior judiciary pronounces an authoritative judgment in this regard, explaining the applicability of these laws, any such discussion is purely speculative. Conduct that is in violation of the current governmental policy of censorship may lead to litigation, and may cause substantial inconvenience and financial costs. It is up to each individual to asses their preferred exposure to such inconvenience and conduct themselves accordingly.

Watch the video that Digital Rights Foundation curated to help citizens of Pakistan better understand the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA):

What to do if the state gets involved?

Section 160 - “Police Officer’s Powers to Acquire Attendance of Witnesses” of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C), along with the PECA, allows the FIA to require a person to present themselves for question regarding a possible commission of an offence. The FIA, however, has been requiring such attendance over phone calls, which is illegal. A person receiving such a phone call must politely, but firmly, demand a formal notice under Section 160.

Upon receipt of such a notice, the person must present themselves before the authorities and answer all their questions truthfully. Where a person feels that answering a question might expose them to criminal liability, they may refuse to answer. Their statement may be recorded on paper, but the FIA does not have the authority to compel them to sign it.

Furthermore, the FIA does not have the authority to detain a person when they have been called pursuant to a Section 160 notice.

The FIA has also required people to surrender their electronic devices for forensic searches. It appears that the FIA is not authorized to do so without a warrant. So if someone finds himself or herself being asked to surrender their devices, they should demand to see a warrant authorizing such a seizure. A person may be required to bring their devices to the authorities, but a seizure of these devices will always require a court warrant.

The FIA, may, however, ask you to surrender your data if it apprehends that the data might be destroyed. This can possibly be done by making a copy of your hard disk. However, the FIA must provide you a written notice under Section 31 - “Expedited Preservation and Acquisition of Data” of the PECA when doing so, and bring this retention to the court’s notice within 24 hours.

So how should we tailor our conduct?

As discussed above, each person must make their own decision as to how much inconvenience they are willing to expose themselves to. Given that the PECA is a relatively new law and the courts have not really explained the contours and limits of its provisions, little about it is known with certainty. It is likely that the government’s interpretation of the law is flawed, and its actions will be restrained in the future by the courts. Till that time, however, online expressions that are critical of state institutions, such as the armed forces, may land a person in trouble. If one does find themselves in trouble, it is highly advisable to immediately seek legal counsel.

Author: Jahanzeb Sukhera
"Jahanzeb is a lawyer based in Lahore"

June 15, 2017 - Comments Off on Data Protection & Privacy in the Digital Age – Part 1: “You Are Being Watched”

Data Protection & Privacy in the Digital Age – Part 1: “You Are Being Watched”

It’s a regular, blazing hot day in sun-scorched Lahore. You might be in the mood for a cocktail, so you call up a local restaurant, asking for their timings and menu. Later in the day, when you're scrolling through Facebook on your mobile, you notice advertisements of the very same place being shoved in your face not-so-subtly, with the blue thumbs up button urging you to “like” the page and subscribe to the restaurant’s updates.

Some of us might find these targeted ads convenient, but many others find them intrusive and even disturbing. Whether you are shopping, eating out, socializing or browsing the internet, you are being monitored and filed through the digital traces produced by your life. Data collection has become synonymous in the age of digital consumerism. It’s at work when you purchase an item from some random shop which then targets you with dozens of SMS. Ever wonder how businesses you have never even heard of solicit you? It’s because your data is being sold for exorbitant prices to marketers who then spam you with advertisements for everything from clothes to mattresses. Behind the complex algorithms powering your favourite apps and websites lies a humongous database of personal information and meta-data that paints a complete portrait of your social identity. Your silent stalkers are none other than the very institutions that form  a part of your daily lives. From local businesses to multinational corporations, from boutiques to your mobile network, and from NADRA to FIA, your personal information is increasingly in the hands of giant corporations and government agencies which operate without any legal oversight or safeguards for data collection and transmission.

Re-thinking your choice of a cool summer drink?

You’re not alone.

We live in what cyber space specialists call the “Golden Age of Surveillance.” As our lives become increasingly digitalized, our privacy is proportionally threatened by the onslaught of data-hungry marketers and companies interested in snooping on our behavioural preferences. Businesses want to know everything about our spending habits so we can open our wallets to them more often. Everything from why we shop, what we buy and how much we spend is information that is priceless to marketers. Remarkably, we might just be helping data collectors unwillingly. We all know people who feel the need to document their personal lives on social media, from uploading albums of pictures on Facebook to snapping the latest dish from the hottest restaurant in town. Some of us might be to blame for oversharing as well. And it’s not just businesses. Fingerprint identification and SIM card registration might be useful for anti-terrorism efforts, but it’s also a privacy nightmare for regular citizens. Not all of us realize that with or without our consent, our lives are being tracked and gathered in a massive database of personal information by companies and government agencies.

But what can we do about it?

Data protection laws might help. Such laws empower data subjects such as you and I with the ability to control the collection of our personal information, equalize our position against powerful data-mining corporations and authorities, and prevent discriminatory and abusive usage. Data protections include restrictions on data transmission and retention, limitations against intrusions of personal information and offenses for violators. The importance of such legal safeguards goes beyond our concerns for privacy: according to reports by the United Nations, even the perception of surveillance by government agencies produces a chilling effect on citizens, who censor themselves out of fear. Political dissenters, journalists, activists and whistleblowers might pay a greater price for acting in the public interest in the absence of protective mechanisms. Data protection laws help foster a democratic environment which encourages, rather than stifles, the free exchange of ideas and discourses. Increasing reliance on such laws in the international sphere means that there are economic advantages for data privacy legislation. Pakistan is unfortunately among the 60 countries in the world which completely lacks such data protection legislation. Our nearest competitor, India, for example, is in the process of enacting comprehensive data protection legislation to secure economic co-operation with the European Union, whose laws demand partner countries to adopt such protections for commercial interests.

In short, data protection laws are severely needed to protect our social, economic and political interests, and thus our very lives.

Author: Ashtar Haideri

June 06, 2017 - Comments Off on Of Challenging Online Violence, Preserving Digital Rights and Internet Freedom: May 2017 at DRF

Of Challenging Online Violence, Preserving Digital Rights and Internet Freedom: May 2017 at DRF

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May 2017 was one of the busiest months at Digital Rights Foundation. With a talk at Carter Center, one at University of Harvard, the launch of a research study, a national conference, two workshops, and multiple events and sessions throughout Pakistan - the team was busy making the internet safe and accessible for everyone.

This post summarizes the activities in May 2017 at Digital Rights Foundation.

Nighat Dad speaks at the Harvard University - May 3, 2017

Nighat Dad spoke about "Digital Rights and Online Harassment in the Global South" at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University on May 3, 2017. Nighat's talk focused on how people in the South are unaware of their digital rights. They, especially women, face online harassment and have no support to handle the trauma that comes with it. She also emphasized on the fact that cyber threats very often translate into offline consequences.

Nighat Harvard

Nighat shared the process of setting up Pakistan's first Cyber Harassment Helpline with a very limited budget for the survivors and victims of online harassment. She alse highlighted the stats of the helpline in the first 4 months of operation since its launch in December 2016. The talk in its entirety can be watched here: [YouTube Link]

Digital Security Clinic at Digital Youth Summit 2017 - May 5 to 7, 2017 in Peshawar

In early May, DRF organised a free Digital Security Clinic at the Digital Youth Summit in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Our 3-person team dispensed digital security advice, raised awareness about cyber harassment, and gave people hands-on demonstrations on how to use important digital security tools. The clinic was an immense success, serving approximately 320 over two days--that’s around 20 people per hour!

DRF Tweet Wall at Digital Youth Summit

DRF Tweet Wall at Digital Youth Summit

The team was expecting a conference full of techies, but to their pleasant surprise many of the visitors were from non-STEM backgrounds-–including teachers, political activists, businesspersons, artists & artisans. The team also put up a tweet-wall against harassment that KPK filled up with lots of love. But the moment that made it worth it all was when one of our female visitors looked at us and said: “Thank you all for doing this here!”

Nighat Dad Speaks at The Carter Center - May 8-9, 2017:

Nighat Dad addressed the former US President Mr. Jimmy Carter, and Senator Mr. Bernie Sanders at The Human Rights Defenders Forum organised by and at The Carter Center.


Nighat talked about some major issues that concern digital rights and privacy of the global citizens, including the laptop ban that Nighat says is actually "the Muslim laptop ban". She also emphasized on the US mass surveillance and the Muslim travel ban. According to her, these human rights violations by the countries like the United States of America set bad precedence for other countries like Pakistan that adopt their practices and laws from the west.

Watch the video here as she speaks to the room full of human rights defenders from around the globe.

Hamara Internet FNF Training - Bacha Khan University

Digital Rights Foundation held an awareness raising session with the students of Bacha Khan University, Charsada in collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF). The session was held to create awareness among women about online violence, abuse and harassment. Digital security tips were also given to women in the session to create awareness on how women can protect themselves online. University students actively participated throughout the session and shared their queries and stories regarding online harassment.

Charsadda Session

Nighat Dad Selected as TEDGlobal Fellow for 2017

Nighat Dad has been selected as one of the TEDGlobal Fellows for 2017. Nighat along with 20 other fellows for 2017 will talk at the TED stage in August in Arusha, Tanzania. According to the TEDGlobal website, “[The TED Fellows] are building companies, sequencing rare diseases, exploring the stars, making music, saving lives, mapping political violence, and much much more.” Details here.


Nighat has been defending digital rights and advocating for the open internet access for all in Pakistan since 2012. She has been named TIME’s Next Generation Leader 2015, has won the Atlantic Council Award, and the prestigious Human Rights Tulip Award in 2016.

Hamara Internet Workshop “Ending Cyber Harassment Against Women with CSO Representatives" - May 22, 2017

DRF held a workshop under the Hamara Internet banner in Islamabad with civil society representatives to discuss the impact of cyber harassment and online abuse. Participants participated enthusiastically where they discussed various roles of Civil Society Organisations (CSO's) to prevent online violence and harassment. The closed working group also shared their opinion about the role of media and its implications for common citizens.


Hamara Internet Conference "Challenging the Evolving Threat of Online Violence" - 25th May, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation organized the “Hamara Internet Conference- Challenging the Evolving Threat of Online Violence” in Lahore on May 25, 2017. The conference included women and digital rights activists, and dealt with issues of online harassment, freedom of expression, privacy, data protection, monitoring, the internet economy, and digital access. The event was attended by students, academics, activists, members of the tech industry, journalists, and women's rights organizations. The panels consisted of “Hamara Internet: Understanding Online Harassment”, “Opportunities on the Internet: New Patterns in Business, Employment and Innovation for women” and “Imagining a Feminist Internet with the Help of Hamara Internet."


The conference also marked the soft launch of Digital Rights Foundation’s quantitative study “Hamara Internet: Measuring Pakistani women’s of online violence”. Furthermore, Jannat Fazal (Psychologist, DRF) and Safieh Shah (Consultant, Medicin Sans Frontiere) also presented their research on “Online harassment: Implication on the mental health of women globally, based on a review of Digital Rights Foundation’s operations in Pakistan."

Measuring Pakistani Women's Experience of Online Violence - Research Study by DRF

Report Horizontal Cover-41

Digital Rights Foundation marked the soft-launch of Pakistan’s first quantitative research study on online violence titled, “Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence” on May 25, 2017. The study compiles the data collected from close to 1400 women during the 17 sessions that had been conducted in Punjab, Sindh, KhyberPakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Gilgit, to create the first ever set of data around online violence in Pakistan. The study maps different aspects of online violence against women, along with a look at how women use digital tools on the whole. It highlights the need for more awareness about anti-harassment laws.


It was found that 72% of the female respondents reported that they were not aware of cyber harassment laws in Pakistan. Most women pointed out that they either had not read or understand (24%) terms and conditions of social media websites. Furthermore, 45% of the women felt that they did not report online harassment because they were embarrassed and 47% felt that it would not be taken seriously by law enforcement agencies.

The details on the research can be accessed here.

Workshop on Privacy and Digital Rights - May 26, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation held a workshop on privacy and digital rights on on May 26, 2017 in Lahore.

Privacy workshop

The Workshop discussed the state of privacy rights in Pakistan in light of cyber law and its implementation. The goal of this focus group discussion was to start a debate about the law, its significance and shortcomings in terms of implementation. Furthermore, Digital Rights Foundation talked about privacy rights and the need for a data protection law in light of best practices abroad. The workshop participants were divided around themes of media regulation (both traditional and social media), SAFE City initiatives and telecommunications policies. The participants put forward several suggestions regarding standard operating procedures, right to know how information is used and demanded transparency from the government. The participants pointed out that social media and blogs are unregulated, and they concluded that there needs to be some SOPs around media ethics and privacy.

Online Harassment : A Retrospective Review of Digital Rights Foundation

A study on Online Harassment was presented by Jannat Fazal - the mental health counselor at DRF - and Safieh Shah - Consultant at MSF -  on MSF Scientific Day 2017 organised by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Delhi, India on May 27, 2017.


The aim of the review of the data is to highlight the psychological impact of cyber harassment on female mental health in Pakistan. Data was collected through Cyber Harassment Helpline from 406 callers using telephonic questionnaire from December 2016 to April 2017. This included demographics, problem description and notes taken by the experts during calls.

DRF and Girls@Dhabas Condemn the Cyber Harassment of Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah

Digital Rights Foundation and Girls@Dhabas released a joint statement to condemn the cyber-harassment, abuse and intimidation that well-known professors and activists of Pakistan Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu have been subjected to over the past four months. Read the statement here.

May 26, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF Launches New Report on Online Violence Against Women in Pakistan

DRF Launches New Report on Online Violence Against Women in Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation marked the soft-launch of Pakistan’s first quantitative research study on online violence titled, “Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence”. The research is part of Digital Rights Foundation’s ongoing project “Hamara Internet” that aims at raising awareness, training women how to safely use digital spaces, and teaching them how to fight online abuse and tech-related violence.

The research study “Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence” compiles the data collected from close to 1400 women during the 17 sessions that had been conducted in Punjab, Sindh, KhyberPakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Gilgit, to create the first ever set of data around online violence in Pakistan. The study maps different aspects of online violence against women, along with a look at how women use digital tools on the whole. The data collected from the students studying in public and private universities quantified women’s habits online, experiences with harassment, and knowledge of protection measures. The research fills the gap in existing data on online harassment among women in Pakistan.

Research Cover

According to the findings of the research, 79% of the respondents use technological devices regularly, 48% of them own smartphones whereas the majority of 67% use Facebook regularly. The study also marks that 72% of the women were not aware of the laws relating to online violence in Pakistan.

The research also finds that 25% of the respondents were aware of the terms and conditions of social media, whereas 51% said that they don’t understand the terms and conditions completely. Considering that only the fourth of the total number of women surveyed knew and understood the said terms, the situation becomes alarming as a large number of women have joined the social media services without knowing what they’re signing up for. If women do not understand these systems to begin with, they effectively forgo whatever means of protection they could have used that are available at their disposal.


When asked about how much information of them exists online, most of the respondents - 35% - agreed that very little information about them exists online while 6% committed that a lot about themis available on the internet. This adds to the already established belief that women prefer anonymity online owing to fear of their own security online and offline. Women were also hesitant to put their information online because of the fear of getting harassed that was established by the responses of 50% women who agreed that they’re mostly prone to online sexual harassment on social media than any other medium.


The report reiterates that 40% of the respondents have been harassed or stalked online at some point. However according to the survey, 70% of the women are afraid of putting up their own photos online because they are afraid of them being misused.


When asked if they’d share their photos and posts with others online, most of the respondents - 37% - disagreed and 29% strongly disagreed. Whereas only 3% said that they’d definitely share their posts and pictures online.


Online sexual harassment is multifaceted and every person takes it differently and their experiences vary from each other. For this matter, we asked the participants if they’d report online violence to the law enforcing agencies (LEAs). 39% of the participants said it would tarnish their reputation, and 33% said that it’d cause danger to them.

The study also highlighted some positive factors. Like when asked if women who are harassed online should stop using social media, 45% strongly disagreed. 28% strongly disagreed and 30% disagreed with the statement that women who are harassed online are at fault.


The objective of the survey was to fill the gap in existing data on online harassment against women and to analyse gendered access to technology. The report also aimed at exploring the experiences of women online and also initiate politicized and informed discussion about gender empowerment within the virtual space. This report will also be used as an advocacy tool for gendered digital rights.

May 03, 2017 - Comments Off on A Glimpse into the Month of April ’17 at Digital Rights Foundation

A Glimpse into the Month of April ’17 at Digital Rights Foundation

A legislation called Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which was enacted in the name of securing people of Pakistan struggles to solve issues pertaining to digital spaces. A lot of times, people don't know who to turn to if they encounter any unpleasant incident online. This problem amplifies when citizens don't know their constitutional rights. Digital Rights Foundation was engaged in the series of sessions and events throughout the month of April to talk to people from different backgrounds about their digital rights and aimed at empowering them with the information needed to raise their voices against injustice and to demand their rights as the citizens of Pakistan.

DRF Spoke to 70 journalists from Across Pakistan on Digital Rights and Online Safety


DRF spoke to 70 journalists from across  Pakistan on digital rights and online safety at National Media Conference 2017 organised on April 20th - 21st, 2017 by College of Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) at IBA, Karachi. DRF conducted six sessions with the participants who were all journalists from different media groups across Pakistan. The sessions aimed at creating awareness about digital rights and privacy among the journalists who face serious level of threats due to the nature of their work. The participants were also briefed about the lack of data protection and transparency among the service providers, including telecom companies and ISPs, in Pakistan and across the world, and what it means for the users in the absence of data protection laws in Pakistan.

When asked if they read the privacy policies of any service before signing up for it, the main concern of most of the participants and the reason for them to not bother reading the policies was the complicated legal language used in those guidelines that according to them, even if they attempt to read, they won’t understand it.

Facebook Released its Latest Government Requests Report and its Worrying for Pakistan


Facebook, as part of its ongoing public objective to provide transparency, released its bi-annual Government Requests Report (GRR) for the months of July - December 2016. According to the report, the Government of Pakistan made 1,002 total requests related to 1,431 user accounts, compared to 35 total requests related to 47 user accounts according to the first ever GRR report published in 2013. More on Facebook's GRR report for Pakistan here.

France's "Right to be Forgotten" Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective


Doughty Street Chambers joined hands with 18 NGOs including Digital Rights Foundation to file legal submissions before France’s highest court, the Council of State, raising serious concerns about a ruling of France’s data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”), on the “right to be forgotten". Although justified as necessary for the protection of minors and to allow victims of cyber harassment to remove content posted about them online, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have come under fire for being vaguely defined. Read more.

Nighat Dad speaks at Afghanistan's first Internet Governance Forum

Afghan IGF

National IT Professional Association of Afghanistan (NITPAA) organised Afghanistan’s first Afghan School on Internet Governance on April 26 - 27, 2017 where Nighat Dad spoke to the participants. Her talk featured how human rights should be incorporated in internet governance. She also specified the digital rights that should be protected for all the citizens. She highlighted that internet is an open platform and its governance should involve every stakeholder, state and non-state.

Panel Discussion: "Freedom to Information in the Digital Age" at LUMS


The panel discussion brought together Mukhtar Ahmad Ali (Commissioner for the Punjab Information Commission), Anoosha Shaigan (Courting the Law) and Shmyla from DRF.

The panelists discussed the role of novel and unprecedented ways through digital technologies can be used to enhance the right to information. The panelists discussed the advantages and shortcomings of the the Right to Information legislation in different provinces and the need for a robust one at the federal level.

The question and answer session discussed the role of open government and the need for whistle-blower protection in Pakistan. Students were encouraged to exercise their right to information in their practice and activism to hold the state accountable.

Panel Discussion: ‘The Role of Social Media in Raising Tax Awareness’


Nighat Dad was invited to speak at a discussion led by the Punjab Revenue Authority on the 7th of April at LUMS. The panel included Industries Secretary Mujtaba Piracha, Bramerz Chief Executive Badar Khushnood, Netsol Executive Anam Naseem, Feryal Gauhar, and two members of the LUMS student body, and the concluding remarks were given by Punjab Minister for Finance Dr. Ayesha Ghaus.

Nighat Dad speaks at LUMS

Internet Rights are Human Rights: Nighat Dad spoke to the students at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on “Internet Rights are Human Rights” on April 28th where she talked about why digital rights in the technological age matter, and how they can demand their rights under the constitution of Pakistan. She also mentioned how when digital rights are violated, people’s freedom to access the online media suffers. She also added the gendered perspective to her talk and emphasized that marginalised groups use the online platform to learn and earn, which they often are barred to do in the real world due to various societal and political reasons.

Nighat Lums April 29

Lecture with the Cyber Law class: Nighat spoke to the students of the cyber law class on online harassment on April 17th. She talked about how online harassment has become a serious issue, and that the online threats are often translated into offline consequences. She also talked about the recently passed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and briefed the students how it criminalizes cyber crimes and protects the rights of the citizens in the offline spaces. She also points out the problematic sections in the law and emphasized that it criminalizes some harmless criticism too.

Workshop for the Female Students of Journalism and Mass Comm at University of Sargodha

Digital Rights Foundation conducted an awareness raising workshop for female journalism and mass communication students at the University of Sargodha, Sargodha on April 6, 2017.  The one day workshop focused on the threats female journalists face during the course of their work and throughout the interactive session, different tools and strategies were focused upon to help the students safeguard their privacy and security in the course of their journalistic work in the future.

His Name was Mashal: DRF and DSA organised Open Mic in Remembrance of Mashal Khan

Digital Rights Foundation and Democratic Students Alliance (DSA) organised an open mic in remembrance of Mashal Khan who was lynched to death over alleged online blasphemy. The open mic titled "His Name was Mashal" gathered people to discuss the legacy of Mashal Khan, and all that he believed in - freedom of speech and freedom of thought. The videos from the event can be found here and here.

On the 13th of April, Mashal Khan a, student of journalism was lynched at the Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in Mardan. Mashal was shot and beaten to death by a mob of students over alleged blasphemy within the university. Investigations regarding the case are still going on and so far 7 have confessed of their involvement in the murder and 41 people are suspects and under custody. Political turmoil and tensions are at an all time high since political parties are insisting to release the people involved in the murder. AWKU has also set up an inquiring committee to probe into the matter of blasphemous activities carried on by students from the Department of Journalism and furthermore rusticated two of the victims from the university until further notice. On the 28th of December Mashal Khan uploaded statuses about fake profiles being made in his name on social media websites to malign him which has stirred controversy among people and disclaimers about profiles are being posted online. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has gone through Mashal’s profiles and has so far found no blasphemous content on his profile.

DRF’s Guide on “What to do in Case of a Fake profile?”


Digital Rights Foundation compiled some essential guidelines to follow in case of a fake profile on social media. The detailed infographic describes the reporting mechanisms present to report fake profiles on various social media websites. Details about how to report to the FIA and how to reach out to the Cyber Harassment Helpline [0800-39393] which is the first of its kind in Pakistan were also shared in it. Fake profiles can involve impersonation, spamming, and non-consensual usage of private information and pictures, to name a few. In light of recent events it is important to always be vigilant, and to take proper measures to protect yourself online. The infographic can be accessed here.