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November 30, 2017 - Comments Off on Harassment hinders women’s access to public and online spaces

Harassment hinders women’s access to public and online spaces

Working on the Cyber Harassment Helpline for exactly a year now, we’ve come across a range of cases, but there’s one thing that has really stood out as common among most of the cases. Not just one, not even a dozen, but most of the victims of online harassment who have reached out for help have reported that one of their immediate responses was to deactivate their online accounts. It becomes important to note here that the people who sought this solution as temporary relief were mostly, if not all, women. When backing away from online spaces is seen as the obvious and immediate recourse in the face of harassment, whether it’s blackmail, impersonation, stolen and/or edited pictures, and when most of the victims of harassment are women, it tells you not only that there is an imbalance of representation and participation of women in online spaces, but that there is a lack of alternate support and help available for them as well.

The online realm is only a reflection of the physical realm, and it shows. In Pakistan, the presence of women is restricted to specific areas in public and online spaces both. The habits and norms of the physical society are replicated within online spaces, so the abuse that women face is only made easier to spew from behind a device’s screen. Harassment faced online, however, has additional deep repercussions on the presence and identity of women physically. There is a certain element of danger that comes along with the ease of accessibility and broadcast that the internet provides. Perhaps the basic threat behind most forms of online harassment is that what a person considers the most personal and vulnerable aspect of themselves has the potential to be made public - and once information is on the internet, it is difficult to be optimistic about it not spreading like wildfire. The threat of possible public embarrassment and social condemnation leaves the victim with what they consider to be the easiest solution to the problem: backing away from the online world. That threat is sometimes powerful enough for them to partially withdraw from physical spaces such as schools, workplaces, markets and parks, even family gatherings, either taking the decision themselves to do so, or being forced by someone from within their family and/or friends.

But if there’s anything that the recent incidents of women (and men) coming out and speaking up against their harassers and abusers in the West has shown us, it is that there is no shame with being harassed when it is someone else who is committing a crime. Any forced ‘shame’ or ‘embarrassment’ that one is made to feel as a result of facing harassment can be overcome by the support and encouragement of everyone else. Drawing up a circle of support can encourage women to maintain their position in both the online and public spaces, instead of feeling like their only refuge is to wipe away their online identity.

A person who is harassed or abused in online and/or offline spaces often indulges in self-loathing and the guilt obscures their will to communicate with people and in expecting support from them. This self-blame results in more serious consequences stemming from psychological trauma. In such instances, the onus comes on people around the victim to extend support to them, and make use of the available sources of help starting from making sure the victim doesn't blame themselves for the abuse they were subjected to.

Author: Hyra Basit

November 28, 2017 - Comments Off on Why does a Feminist Internet matter?

Why does a Feminist Internet matter?

By the time you reach the middle of this post, users around the world will have generated a total of 466260 tweets, 3764940 Google search queries, and 157644120 emails. That is how much data is generated in one minute on the Internet.

Sit back and think about it for a moment.

The digital age is here, loud and clear. Cyberspace is rapidly expanding and becoming a key part of our lives. Distinctions between offline and online are beginning to blur, both at the individual level as well as the collective. What does this mean for those of us who are still working on the problems of the offline world, its millennia of discrimination and inequality, the many forms of oppression woven into the fabric of our social structures?

Digital spaces are rapidly changing and have the power to amplify our voices far beyond what was ever possible at any point in human history before. It can give a single image the power to catalyze a movement, or put a political candidate out of running with a data leak, or broadcast evidence of war crimes far and wide so their perpetrators cannot escape the moral outcry, or give oppressive regimes all-new tools with which to control and monitor citizens. The Internet is what we make it--which is why we must make it feminist. This must not be a tangential aim for our activism, a “nice to have” that can be dealt with later. If the world is going digital, we must be prepared to occupy digital space.

Based on this, we organized a session around feminist principles of the Internet earlier this year. Borrowing from the framework developed by APC, we outlined 5 key areas of change in the efforts to envision what a feminist Internet would look like. But Pakistan has its own unique circumstances, so we also looked at what a feminist internet means to us.


We believe an Internet that is not accessible is not a feminist Internet. For all its importance, large pockets of the world as well as Pakistan have limited or contested access to the Internet. From socioeconomic factors to conflict and security concerns, the ease of connectivity is not available to many people. As the State shifts to a digitized model of public service, where many key functions are supplemented by or providing online whether through safety apps or vehicle trackers, does this mean these people are lesser citizens? Do they not have the same right to access and use technology?

Movements & Public Participation

The Internet’s most disruptive global impact so far has been its ability to circumvent, subvert, or even dismantle hegemonic models of governance, communication, and cultural dissemination. This is a trait worth protecting, through a struggle for net neutrality and refusal to cede space, as well as enhancing by adopting it as a powerful tool for civil resistance.


Traditional economies are saddled with traditional barriers to access and loopholes for discrimination. A feminist Internet must create and claim space for alternate economies, breaking down barriers to allow historically marginalized groups an equal chance at determining their own economic future and social mobility, and by ensuring that a fair return for digital labor is obtained. In this way, not only is a sustainable feminist economy developed, we successfully provide society a meaningful replacement to exploitative economic structures.


Because expression is pillar of both cultural growth as well as resistance, a feminist Internet must protect expression. We must utilize this medium to spread the message of liberation, while at the same time ensuring that censorship is not able to rebrand itself as false concern for public safety or morality. Moral panic must not be allow to drown out moral imperatives to promote justice.


Agency is a core tenet of struggles that seek the recognition of human rights and dignity for all people. Our understanding of technology and the dehumanizing effect it may sometimes produce must change; we must develop an ethics of compassion not just for those we see before us but also for those we only interact with behind a screen. Digital creator and digital user must not be seen as mutually exclusive--final authority and ownership of our digital lives must rest with our own selves.

Author: Fatima Athar

November 26, 2017 - Comments Off on Fake News in the Time of Censorship

Fake News in the Time of Censorship

In lieu of the ban on social media website across Pakistan, an information vacuum has emerged. While the situation in the country is quite alarming, we must guard against dissemination of misinformation and fake news, which can result in more panic and confusion than necessary.

A notification by the “Ministry of Interior Regulation” has been making the rounds, which states that all digital communications will be monitored by the government and those engaging in political and religious discourse will be subjected to punishment without due process. The message, distributed primarily through WhatsApp, has been reproduced below for reference:

Ministry of Interior Regulation

From tomorrow onwards there are new communication regulations.

All calls are recorded

All phone call recordings saved

WhatsApp is monitored

Twitter is monitored

Facebook is monitored

All social media and forums are monitored

Inform those who do not know.

Your devices are connected to ministry systems.

Take care not to send unnecessary messages

Inform your children, Relatives and friends about this to take care

Don't forward any posts or videos etc., you receive  regarding politics/present situation about Government/PM etc.

Police have put out a notification termed ..Cyber Crime ... and action will be taken...just delete ...

Inform your friends & others too.

Writing or forwarding any msg on any political & religious debate is an offence now....arrest without warrant...

This is very serious, plz let it be known to all our groups and individual members as group admin can b[e] in deep trouble.

Take care not to send unnecessary messages.
Inform everyone about this to take care.

Please share it; it's very much true.


Firstly, it needs to be noted that there is there is no “Ministry of Interior Regulation” in Pakistan. The closest in name is the Ministry of Interior, which has not issued any notification on the subject as per its official and public communications. This message is verbatim copied from a
similar hoax in India, where a fake notification was circulated through WhatsApp earlier this year.

While the notification has no authenticity as it was not issued by any government authority, it is still important to counter the misinformation contained therein. The notification posits that “All calls are recorded”. There is no law in Pakistan that allows for mass surveillance of the contents of phone calls, even the most problematic of legislation such as the Fair Trial Act 2013 requires warrants to be obtained before calls can be intercepted, monitored, or saved. While there is a possibility of targeted intercepts, there is no evidence of mass interception of all telephonic calls in the country. Furthermore, even though the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 allows for retention of traffic data for up to one year (section 32: Retention of Traffic Data), this retention does not extend to the contents of communications. It is also important to note that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the right to privacy to all citizens under Article 14, and it is unlikely that mass surveillance and monitoring of communications will be deemed legal.

The message also claims that “WhatsApp is monitored”. All messages exchanged through WhatsApp are protected by end-to-end encryption, which means that third party interception and real-time monitoring is impossible. WhatsApp does not store any data on its servers. While there have been reports of backdoors and given the fact that it is owned by Facebook, the potential effects are quite limited and extremely unlikely to compromise communications at a mass level.

Writing or forwarding any msg on any political & religious debate is an offence now....arrest without warrant…

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, does not criminalize political or religious speech per se. Despite being broad and vaguely worded, the Act only criminalizes political speech in the event that it falls under the definitions of hate speech (section 11), cyber terrorism (section 10), glorification of an offence (section 9), defamation (section 20) or spoofing (section 26). Even in the event that speech qualifies as a crime under these sections, there is no provision for “arrest without warrant” given the protections of due process and criminal procedure for obtaining data and devices, as well as arrest and detention.

The message ends with a general warning: Don't forward any posts or videos etc., you receive  regarding politics/present situation about Government/PM etc.

Panic-inducing messages such as these have the effect of chilling speech and discourages citizens from engaging in political discourse.

While it is important to be cautious in our speech, especially when it comes to sensitive topics, it is imperative to still exercise the rights that we have as citizens and not give in to fear and panic. In times like these, we must be vigilant and cautious before sharing or forwarding any news or information and ensure that the news is from a verified and authentic source before distributing it.

Author: Shmyla Khan

November 26, 2017 - Comments Off on Press Release: DRF and NetBlocks find blanket and nation-wide ban on social media in Pakistan and demand it to be lifted immediately

Press Release: DRF and NetBlocks find blanket and nation-wide ban on social media in Pakistan and demand it to be lifted immediately

The NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory project in coordination with the Digital Rights Foundation has collected evidence of nation-wide internet disruptions throughout Pakistan.
On the afternoon of Saturday 25 November, internet users reported disruptions affecting key social media platforms amid protests. The present investigation seeks to provide an early determination of the extent of those restrictions.
Between 16:00 pm and 11:00pm on 25th November 2017, measurements from 121 unique vantage points distributed through 16 ASNs (Autonomous System Numbers) covering major cities and regions in Pakistan were collected, geolocated and anonymised via the NetBlocks web probe measurement network.
Twitter and Facebook are currently restricted with mobile operators Mobilink, Zong, Telenor, Ufone and fixed providers PTCL, Witribe, Zong and Cybernet. Our data indicates that YouTube restrictions are only partially implemented, suggesting that many internet users in Pakistan will still be able to access the video streaming service. Availability of other services has not yet been investigated. A control set of international news websites remained reachable, indicating that the restrictions are targeted to suppress social media coverage of the unrest. The restrictions remain in effect at the time of writing.
A summary of the data is available in CSV format for examination and may be used with credit. This report is provided as an early indicator during an ongoing crisis situation; we expect our investigation to be supported by more detailed technical evaluation.

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Cities specifically found to be affected include Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Islamabad, Quetta and Peshawar while the data suggests the restrictions are in affect nationwide, save for a small number of outliers which appear remain able to access the services.
Digital Rights Foundation demands the suspension of the blanket and nation-wide ban on social media and channels of communication as it does not serve the principles of freedom of expression and proportionality. While the government can take measures to ensure the security of Pakistani citizens, it is important to strike a balance between censorship and security. is a global network observatory that monitors Internet shutdowns, network disruptions, and cybersecurity incidents and their relation to politics and conflict in real-time.
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a research and advocacy NGO based in Pakistan that focuses on how ICT can support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance. It works towards a world where all people, and especially women, are able to safely exercise their right of expression.

November 11, 2017 - Comments Off on October 2017: DRF drafts Policy Recommendation for the Data Protection Legislation

October 2017: DRF drafts Policy Recommendation for the Data Protection Legislation

DRF drafts Policy Recommendation for the Data Protection Legislation


Jannat Ali Kalyar from Digital Rights Foundation prepared a policy brief regarding data protection and privacy in the digital age. The policy brief significantly expands the discussion on legal safeguards, the general lack of guidance on Privacy and the broad powers given to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) under the existing legal regime. Read the blog post here.

Malala attends Nighat Dad's talk at the Oxford University

Nighat Dad spoke at Oxford University on Navigating Social Media: Tackling Violence, abuse and Harassment” on November 2, 2017. Nighat was hosted by Oxford University Pakistan Society, and talked about why and how she felt the need to establish an organisation to raise the concerns that not only affect her as a woman but also to other millions of women in Pakistan - the issues that go back to the patriarchal roots the society is based on, and the issues that have been oppressing women for centuries.

The talk was attended by the students of the university, which also included the youngest Nobel Prize recipient, the amazing Malala Yousufzai. She applauded the efforts that DRF is doing to make online spaces safe for women, including the Cyber Harassment Helpline.


Because the DRF team is focused on doing a lot of things, the limelight of the week was knowing that Malala has been following our work very closely and has been excited about the launch of the helpline as much as we were. It’s safe to say that we had a little celebration at the DRF office amidst the chaos.

Nighat Dad spoke at the Mozilla Festival 2017


Nighat Dad was part of the diverse lineup of speakers advocating for digital rights around the world for this year’s MozFest. Nighat shared her frustration for being invited on yet another global festival and to speak about inspirational success stories on yet another stage in front of yet another group of people, and finally go back to the real life where people are still facing injustice, where women are still oppressed, where her understaffed Cyber Harassment Helpline team is exhausted while trying to provide relief to the victims of online abuse with limited resources, and while trying to make things a little better than they were before the event that she attended. She talked about how her mouth hurts now to be speaking at panels and conferences without having to see the situation getting better. Watch her full talk at MozFest here.

DRF submission on online violence against women to Human Rights Council

DRF submitted the report to the UN Special Rapporteur on online violence against women. The report explores the laws and institutions that are in place within Pakistan to deal with issues of online violence against women. Facts and figures are used to gauge the extent of the problem and its nature, relying on data provided by the government, law enforcement agencies and collected by DRF. A legal analysis of the legislation is accompanied by an appraisal of the implementation of the laws and the functioning of institutions on the ground. Reported judgments are also analysed to gauge jurisprudence (interpretations of the laws) as well as legal principles developed by local courts. The purpose of the report is not only to analyse the existing structures, but to situate them within the lived experiences of women facing online violence. This experience is elucidated through case studies as well as analysis done by DRF’s cyber harassment helpline team. The report can be accessed here.

DRF attended 5-day Digital Rights Camp in Indonesia

Hija Kamran from Digital Rights Foundation was part of a 5-day digital rights camp, COCONET, that took place from October 21 till 26, 2017 in Indonesia. The camp was organised in an informal setting and gathered 120 digital rights activists from South Asia and Southeast Asia, and aimed at discussing the state of digital rights from the region and encouraging collaboration and bringing everyone on one platform to promote well-being of the citizens beyond borders.

The intervention from the representative of DRF was largely based on curbing online gender based violence and the tools and approaches that have been and can be proven effective in the context of conservative societies.

What does a feminist internet look like?” at Books and Beans

feminist internet

The panel discussion was facilitated by Maham Javed and included Sarah Eleazar along with Shmyla Khan and Nighat Dad of DRF. They discussed the issues that women faced online as well as a call to action to “fix” the internet and imagine it from a feminist framework. The event was organized by 'Well-connected women', a journalistic project about feminism and the internet in Pakistan, called.

STEMinists of Pakistan: How to Overcome Barriers in STEM fields”, 28 October 2017, British Council Library

In the panel DRF was represented by Shmyla Khan who highlighted the barriers that women face in STEM fields in Pakistan, such as equal progression/ equal pay, as well as local biases and stereotypes preventing women from taking up roles. The panelists shared strategies on how women can “make it” in fields related to science and technology, and shared their personal journeys.

Online Safety Session at Bahria University, Islamabad

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Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) conducted an awareness raising on the online safety of female students at Bahria University, Islamabad on 10th October, 2017. Participants included 85 female students from the Law, Media Studies and Social Sciences departments. The presentations given by the DRF team focused on cyber harassment laws and policies, the impact of harassment on women, DRF’s cyber harassment helpline, threat modelling, controlling access online and digital safety.

Awareness Raising Workshop at Forman Christian College, Lahore

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Digital Rights Foundation carried out an awareness raising workshop on November 1st, 2017 at Forman Christian College (A Chartered University) Lahore, with the collaboration of Women Empowerment Society and Forman Journalism Society. There were 72 number of female students from Journalism department. During the workshop several issues were discussed such as online violence against women, cyber harassment, cyber stalking, spear phishing attacks etc. Digital security team by DRF demonstrated on how to use digital devices safely and securely.

October 17, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation in Hong Kong: Conversations on Data Protection, Gender, and Privacy

Digital Rights Foundation in Hong Kong: Conversations on Data Protection, Gender, and Privacy

Late last month, Digital Rights Foundation was in Hong Kong, taking part in two events concerning privacy - the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), and the 3rd Edition of the Privacy, Personality and Flows of Information (PPFI) workshop conference. DRF took part in a panel on Gender and Privacy in Asia at the PPFI workshop.

What is the ICDPPC & why did we go?

Inaugurated in 1979, the ICDPPC, according to Access Now, is a “forum which brings together a membership of 100 data protection authorities (DPAs) from more than 70 countries across the globe” with the decisions made at the forum being “influential” as “they shape data protection policy globally by providing guidance and tools for DPAs to fulfill their mandates.”

As we have highlighted through our advocacy campaigns and articles, Pakistan does not have data protection authorities or indeed data protection legislation, despite an overly broad cybercrime law - the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, passed in August 2016 - and a desire to be a new South Asian tech hub. DRF has been pushing for data protection provisions in the PECA both prior to and after its passage, to ensure that the private data of Pakistani citizens is protected. We went to Hong Kong to discern current global trends concerning data privacy, the nuances in a world where governments demand more surveillance and data retention powers, and what it all means for human rights, particularly in the Global South. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, the DPA for Hong Kong, hosted this year’s forum, with the theme “Connecting West with East in Protecting and Respecting Data Privacy.”

The ICDPPC being held in Hong Kong  is an interesting choice of location, given the Chinese government’s interest in bringing Hong Kong judiciary et al in line with Beijing, something that has given independence and civil rights activists and lawyers concern. Given that the Government of Pakistan has signed up to be part of CPEC, as well as Shenzen-based Huawei being given the contract for Pakistan’s ambitious Safe Cities project, Digital Rights Foundation and other rights organisations should share that concern as well with the citizens of Pakistan.

At the ICDPPC there were recurring conversations being held, including: Internet of Things (IoT), the impact of data collection by Facebook, et al on personal privacy across international borders, biotech, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, to come into effect early 2018), and the evergreen concern of security versus privacy. There were calls by panelists at the ICDPPC to respect the necessity of strong encryption protocols, even in the face of calls by politicians for a loosening of encryption - e.g. the UK and US government calling for “backdoors” into encryption software and encrypted messengers such as WhatsApp.

Legislation as it stands in Pakistan does not permit encryption without prior permissions from and application to regulatory bodies, specifically the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. Article 4 of the  2010 Monitoring and Reconciliation of Telephone Traffic Regulations (MTTR) requires that network operators allow for the monitoring and recording of real-time traffic both by and to be forwarded to the PTA. In July 2011 the PTA directed that encryption software and mechanisms that in its eyes contravene Article 4 of the MTTR to be banned. This condition of the PTA - which technically means that WhatsApp is some ways prohibited, yet widely used in Pakistan - is also one that a proposed digital protection authority and legislation in Pakistan may come up against, which in in turn is why the latter two are necessary, more now than ever.

What DRF hoped to see was more civil society involvement at the ICDPPC, with their concerns taken onboard. While there were civil society panelists - such as DRF partner Privacy International - the role of civil society in the development and larger discussions by the DPAs did not appear to be a large one.

About PPFI

Following the ICDPPC, DRF took part in the 3rd Edition of the Privacy, Personality and Flows of Information (PPFI) workshop conference, co-organised by the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur, Digital Asia Hub, and the University of Hong Kong. The workshop focused on Asian perspectives for privacy as a global human right, with us taking part in a panel that focused on Gender and Privacy in Asia.

An interesting observation by other participants - which also factored into our involvement on the panel - was the recurring trend of “honour” or “shame” being at the heard of privacy violation in Asian societies. A number of Asian countries, including Pakistan, do not have a word that directly translates into “privacy”, with some, such as Pakistan having synonyms for “personal”, which is telling in of itself.

DRF discussed what we observed through our training sessions and via our cyber harassment helpline, wherein the theft (and in some cases manipulation) of personal data would lead to young women being blackmailed, or else the perpetrators threatened to release their personal information to their families. It is the the fear of the latter, and how the family may react, that leads many victims to not come forward. When or if they do, however, there has been noticeable victim-blaming, even by officers of government authorities such as the Federal Investigation Agency, leading to further discouragement and disillusionment.

A key focus of our panel participation was the tragic case study of Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani social media personality, on whom the Guardian had recently released a short documentary earlier last month. We highlighted that overarching patriarchal sensitivity and misogynist attitudes led to her personal information - her Pakistani passport and national ID card - being broadcast by media outlets, and journalists - some of whom whose own privacy had been attacked by the government - tweeting out her personal details. These directly led to her murder by her brother. What happened to Qandeel Baloch was, for lack of a better word, a perfect case study for the need for data protection legislation in Pakistan.

Written by Adnan Chaudhri

October 13, 2017 - Comments Off on Data Protection Law in Pakistan: Policy Recommendations by DRF

Data Protection Law in Pakistan: Policy Recommendations by DRF

In view of the commitments made by our government regarding the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and public statements by the Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) to introduce a data protection law, Digital Rights Foundation has prepared a policy brief regarding data protection and privacy in the digital age.

Information and communications technologies provide immense opportunities and continue to grow in importance for all Pakistanis. However, their tremendous advancement has significantly impacted individuals’ ability to protect their digital identity, allowing for pervasive collection of their personal information by private companies and the government.

This policy brief significantly expands the discussion on legal safeguards, the general lack of guidance on Privacy and the broad powers given to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) under the existing legal regime.

We at DRF believe that in order to ensure systemic change, government departments must be open to meaningful collaboration with civil society. We urge, therefore, that the law be drafted in a manner that is inclusive rather than exclusive, responding to consultations and recommendations, taking the input of civil society and the private sector to address the issues highlighted herewith.

These policy recommendations are part of larger efforts to ensure that the drafting process of our laws is held to public scrutiny, accountable and transparent, leading to an informed public debate about the lack of privacy protection for Pakistani citizens.

The policy brief can be found here, and we hope that our public officials will benefit from it as well.

Written by Jannat Ali

October 09, 2017 - Comments Off on September ’17 at DRF: The Team Traveled Far & Wide Talking About Digital Rights

September ’17 at DRF: The Team Traveled Far & Wide Talking About Digital Rights

DRF in Karachi

DRF in Karachi

The team of Digital Rights Foundation came to Karachi in the last week of September to talk to the people about all things digital rights. We were at British Council talking to women in our session titled "Hamara Internet: Reclaiming Online Spaces for Women", and to kids in the session titled "Anti-Cyber Bullying and Digital Awareness Workshop" on September 23 and 24th, 2017 respectively. We were then at the Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents (iAct) talking to the young students about Online Safety, followed by a panel discussion titled "Politicizing the Internet" at the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. All in all, it was a busy but productive week in the bustling city of Pakistan.

“Hamara Internet: Reclaiming Online Spaces for Women”, British Council Library


Out trip in Karachi was off to a great start with some amazing women joining us to discuss the travails Pakistani women face on the internet. There was a great discussion about consent, victim blaming and of course digital security.

“Anti-Cyber Bullying and Digital Awareness Workshop”, British Council Library


It’s always great to work with kids and their parents, and this session was no different. We discussed cyberbullying, coping mechanisms and how our younger netizens can secure themselves online.

Online Privacy and Safety Workshop at the Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents (iAct)


Nighat Dad and Hija Kamran conducted a last minute workshop on Online Safety and Privacy during their trip to the city of lights, with the students of Institute for Advancing Careers and Talents (iAct) - a project of Habib University for the young students representing underprivileged areas of Karachi. During the training, Nighat and Hija emphasized on the importance of online safety and how it’s very essential to make informed decisions when browsing the internet. The session was concluded with a group photo with the amazing participants and a brief discussion on who takes the best selfies.

"Politicizing the Internet: Resisting Patriarchy Online" - A Panel Discussion at the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences


Third session in a day and the last session of DRF’s visit to Karachi was scheduled at Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. It was a panel discussion titled, “Politicizing the Internet: Resisting Patriarchy Online. Nighat Dad, Hija Kamran, Fatima Athar, and Danish Ali from DRF were part of the panel where they discussed how the online experiences of women and other marginalised groups differ from others, and how this difference in experience is followed by self-censorship. There was also a discussion on how women can resist oppression and advocate for change in the online and offline spaces.

Our Right to Safe Spaces Online - Workshop with Lawyers in Lahore


DRF conducted a 3 hour workshop with lawyers with a focus on digital rights. The workshop was titled ‘Our Right to Safe Online Spaces’ in which lawyers came together to discuss the ever changing problem of cyber harassment and hate speech. Participants discussed in detail about the prevailing laws in Pakistan and its implementation within institutions. They also discussed the importance of online safety and what measures to adopt in order to ensure their own safety as well as their clients.

Ending Cyber Harassment Against Women - Workshop at the University of Okara

Hamara Internet Okara Training-01

Jannat Fazal and Seerat Khan conducted a workshop on Ending Cyber Harassment Against Women with students of University of Okara on the 28th of September. More than 100 students participated in the event in which DRF touched key issues that women face online. Women shared their personal experiences of cyber harassment and harassment in general and were told about the remedies that are available to them in case of harassment.

UNESCO’s “International Day for Universal Access to Information” - Islamabad


DRF’s representatives took part in the event to mark the international day for universal access to information by adding a gender perspective and speaking in terms of new media. Shmyla Khan participated in a panel alongside Sadaf Khan (Media Matters), Neil Buhne (UN Resident Coordinator), Mr Ahmed Naeem (Deputy Director, Punjab Information Commission) and Owais Aslam Ali (Pakistan Press Foundation).

“Hamara Internet: Reclaiming Online Spaces for Women", Lahore British Council Library


Hyra Basit and Shmyla Khan conducted a workshop for young girls on issues of online harassment and digital security. The session brought to light specific problems faced by Pakistani women in Pakistan and an excellent discussion around patriarchy.

39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, Hong Kong


In late September DRF took part in two events - the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), and the 3rd Edition of the Privacy, Personality and Flows of Information (PPFI) workshop, both held in Hong Kong. The PPFI workshop, co-organised by the Office of the UN Special Rapporteur, Digital Asia Hub, and the University of Hong Kong , focused on Asian perspectives for privacy as a global human right.

Members of DRF spoke at the PPFI as part the panel on Gender and Privacy in Asia. Our focus at this panel was to bring attention to the consequences of a lack of privacy through the lens of gender, highlighting the case of Qandeel Baloch. DRF also spoke about our research and experiences with training sessions in Pakistan, and how they reflected the on-the-ground realities of gendered harassment and loss of privacy.

Twitter Transparency Report, January – June, 2017: An Uptake in Requests by the Government


Pakistan is ranked 139 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 and classified as “Partly Free” by Freedom House in 2016. Furthermore, Pakistan’s request to social media companies for information and content removal is increasing at an alarming rate. This trend has been reflected in the Twitter Transparency report released September 21, 2017. DRF analyzed the report that can be accessed here.

Exclusive: The CPEC plan for Pakistan’s digital future


A radical overhaul of Pakistan’s communications framework appears to be on the cards — or at least that is what Beijing and Islamabad have envisioned under their Long Term Plan (LTP) for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

A closer examination of the LTP document obtained in June by Dawn reveals intentions for a revamped communications framework, which includes components such as a fibre optic cable connecting Pakistan and China, a new submarine landing station for internet traffic flow, and digital TV for all. Details here.

Internet Shutdowns During Muharram


Internet Services were suspended in whole of Pakistan on September 29 to October 1, 2017 from 8 am till 10 pm in major parts of Pakistan to mark the religious events of Muharram due to the strict security arrangements to safeguard Muharram processions. Read details here.

Man sentenced to death over 'blasphemous' WhatsApp text


A Pakistani Christian man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after he allegedly sent a Muslim friend a poem on WhatsApp that insulted Islam, a lawyer said Friday. Nadeem James was charged in July last year after his Muslim friend Yasir Bashir complained to the police that he received a poem on the messaging app that was derogatory toward the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and other holy figures. Details here.

ATC indicts four for blasphemy on social media


An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on Tuesday indicted four out of seven suspects for allegedly publishing blasphemous content about Islam on social media. ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand arraigned the suspects, who pleaded not guilty and decided to stand trial. Details here.

Blue Whale Challenge: Something Fishy


This week Pakistan joined the moral panic party surrounding the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’. Here is a detailed article separating fact from fiction.

September 25, 2017 - Comments Off on Twitter Transparency Report, January – June, 2017: An Uptake in Requests by the Government

Twitter Transparency Report, January – June, 2017: An Uptake in Requests by the Government

Incursions onto free Speech, particularly with reference to the internet, are on the rise, creating a climate of fear and oppression for social media activists and bloggers, ultimately resulting in self-censorship. Pakistan is ranked 139 in the World Press Freedom Index 2017 and classified as “Partly Free” by Freedom House in 2016. Furthermore, Pakistan’s request to social media companies for information and content removal is increasing at an alarming rate. This rise comes in light of the fact that Pakistan has passed the cybercrime legislation, ostensibly to prevent misuse of freedom in online spaces, that has raised concerns in terms of right to free expression and privacy.

This trend has been reflected in the Twitter Transparency report released September 21, 2017. Pakistan had made a total of four account information requests between July and December last year, compared to seven requests made during the first half of 2017. The number of requests made was higher and so was the number of accounts specified in the requests that had increased from 38 in the second half of 2016 to 60 in the first half of 2017.


Pakistan also made 7 requests to Twitter for the removal of 24 accounts between July to December last year, compared to 24 removal request for 82 accounts in the first half of 2017.


The report demonstrates more than a twofold increase in the first half of 2017, for much too obvious reasons.

Foremost, since the promulgation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the situation has only deteriorated. It places new curbs on free expression and legitimate internet usage under which mere criticism of the military, judicial system and religion can lead to imprisonment. Further, it has resulted in increased government surveillance and monitoring of bloggers, providing them with no accountability or redress.

In early January, 5 bloggers from different cities were allegedly abducted for questioning the political influence of the establishment and speaking up for the rights of religious minorities.

This was followed by another crackdown on social media activists in May for posting anti-state content and maligning its institutions, military in particular.

Presumably, such practices may have potentially contributed to the increase of Government’s request to Twitter. They demonstrate the abuse of the space that we have given up by allowing laws such as PECA to pass and to encroach on our rights.

Interestingly, Twitter declined all requests for account information and removal of accounts and claimed that it did not remove any account or provide any data to the government as opposed to a global trend which saw Twitter suspending more accounts than ever before.

Although, the nature of the requests made by our Government are unclear but none of the 24 removal requests made were legal requests or in the form of a court or legal order, therefore, questioning the legitimacy of requests and potential abuse of power by law enforcement and security agencies.

This shows that the lack of transparency by our Government in relation to the process and selection criteria of requests demonstrated by the absence of judicial oversight could have potentially led to Twitter’s refusal.

On the contrary, Brazil and Turkey made 15 and 715 content removal requests respectively, to Twitter in the form of court orders and successfully got 15% and 11% of the reported content respectively, removed.

Therefore, it is time our government applies similar checks and balances primarily to prevent the intelligence and security agencies from the use and abuse of arbitrary powers vested in them by legislations such as PECA.

It is urged that prior to making information or content removal requests, potentially infringing constitutional rights of Pakistani citizens, a mandatory court order based on clearly defined rules should be required and only in extremely exceptional cases requiring urgent action, should it be exempted.

Author: Jannat Ali

September 07, 2017 - Comments Off on Is the collection of student data by LEAs permitted by law?

Is the collection of student data by LEAs permitted by law?

In the wake of an attack on the leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly, allegedly carried out by a Karachi University student, concerns of student militancy over the years continue to grow. In this context, the aim of the collection of private student data by law enforcement agencies (LEAs) is to ostensibly track and curb potential involvement in terrorism.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), passed in 2016, does provide a mechanism whereby an authorized officer may by notice, require universities to provide or preserve the specified data for up to 90 days and only bring to the notice of the court within twenty four hours after the acquisition of the data. The court may issue a warrant for disclosure, furthermore, if the court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the purpose of preventing crime.

It is unclear, therefore, as to which provisions law enforcement agencies (LEAs) will be relying on in order to legitimise such large-scale data collection. Simultaneously, there are no direct data protection laws in Pakistan that would challenge this invasion of privacy. Further to this, the security agencies that the LEAs will be working alongside have yet to finalise or even develop an effective mechanism in regards to data collection and with respect to privacy.

The PECA provisions listed above, furthermore, are only strictly applicable in relation to ‘ongoing’ criminal proceedings or investigation and cannot be used as a tool to profile or surveil all university students under the guise of national security. As a nation with security state characteristics, Pakistan has troubling precedent in regards to overriding fundamental human rights in the name of security, and which we could see happening here.

There are similarities that could also be drawn between student data collection and the compulsory SIM registration policy by NADRA, which were promoted and created as a means of cracking down on potential terrorists. It is likely that a similar policy would be adopted by the security agencies, using much the same justification.

Putting private data of university students under intense scrutiny could exacerbate an already stressful atmosphere - students are required to provide “character” certificates when being admitted, and there is an increase in CCTV monitoring at entrances and exits of several campuses across Pakistan. Such mass surveillance of students must be condemned, as this would harbour distrust and anxiety in students. Rather than make them feel safer, mass surveillance would actually increase feelings of insecurity, as they would feel unable to express their views freely.

Data collection and other aforementioned anti-terrorism actions by the state have thus far generally failed to garner support, even within parts of the government. Senator Raza Rabbani echoed concerns similar to ours in a letter (which can be found at the end of this post) addressed to the Vice Chancellor of Karachi University:

the police and the intelligence agencies are the hard face of the state, an interaction with them will further consolidate the anxiety and fear in the minds of the students.

Senator Rabbani stressed that while immediate steps must be taken to address the issue of extremism - proposing a total review of the university curriculum, as well as the implementation of the Senate of Pakistan’s Resolution on restoring student unions - “diverse literary and academic activity” could play in building an effective counter-paradigm. From this it can be inferred that the Senate of Pakistan recognises free speech as a fundamental right that can be a far greater bulwark against terrorism than mass surveillance. This recognition could aid in the development of a major shift in Pakistan’s human rights history.

What is needed is a robust data protection legal regime that prohibits the retention of data by third parties to be later provided to the government. It should explicitly state the exceptions and should specify which information should and should not be disclosed to the government, if the need arises. It should impose a duty on organizations including universities to take specific measures to protect the student’s personal data and penalize them for non-compliance. Further, for less serious cases, there should be a non-mandatory mechanism whereby the university should decide if it would be necessary and proportionate to disclose information to LEAs.