Blog Archives

All Posts in DRF in Media

September 6, 2015 - Comments Off on It’s time to end the culture of online misogyny!

It’s time to end the culture of online misogyny!

The Last Word bookshop and Digital Rights Foundation recently collaborated on a discussion session held at the Last Word in Lahore, Pakistan, to help develop an understanding – and increase awareness of – the dangers of unchecked online harassment. The session, “A Call To Action: Online Misogyny in Pakistan, and How to Combat it”, was announced in response to a disturbing rise in online misogyny and gender-based cyber-harassment. According to Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, 3,027 cases of cybercrime were reported in the the period between August 2014 and August 2015, with 45% of the cases being related to cyber-harassment on social media against women.

Aysha Raja, owner of the Last Word, compering the event. On her right are Nabiha Meher Shaikh and Susan Benesch

Aysha Raja, owner of the Last Word, compering the event. On her right are (l-r) Nabiha Meher Shaikh and Susan Benesch

The recent misogyny and hyper-jingoism on display last week ( highlighted how important it is to tackle misogyny, and to examine the behaviours that give rise to it. The alarming frequency with which online harassment (which often bleeds out into real world “offline” harassment, or worse) has led to much needed public discourse – not just on recognising that the danger is real, but also to come up with proactive solutions to counter such behaviour. There are signs of understanding – the DRF/Last Word session, for example, saw a good turnout, with many men not only in attendance, but also contributing to the discussion in a mostly positive manner.

Jahanzaib Haque of raises a point.

Jahanzaib Haque of raises a point.

The audience at the event

The audience at the event

The speakers at the event, included:

Susan Benesch of The Berkman Center for Internet and Society, at Harvard University, and founder of the Dangerous Speech Project, “to find ways of diminishing inflammatory speech – and its capacity to inspire violence - while protecting freedom of expression.”

Nabiha Meher Sheikh, Co-founder of Pakistan Feminist Watch, and an instructor in Critical Thinking

Jahanzaib Haque, Chief Digital Strategist and Editor at

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation


We have collected the live-tweets of the session in Storify, for those unable to attend. The link can be found here. Dawn's coverage of the session.

June 5, 2015 - Comments Off on Time Magazine Honours Nighat Dad as a Next Generation Leader

Time Magazine Honours Nighat Dad as a Next Generation Leader

Digital Rights Foundation founder Nighat Dad with Nobel Prize winner and activist Malala Yousafzai.

Digital Rights Foundation founder Nighat Dad with Nobel Prize winner and activist Malala Yousafzai.

Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation's founder, was recently honoured by Time Magazine, by being named one of its Next Generation Leaders of 2015. She joins five other young innovators who are leading by example and inspiring others to have the courage to follow their convictions. Read Time's profile on Nighat and the important of Digital Rights Foundation's work here.


January 12, 2014 - Comments Off on Cyber security conference: Film challenges ‘official’ narrative on drones

Cyber security conference: Film challenges ‘official’ narrative on drones

Originally published on Tribune, Pakistan.


Rights activists urged journalists to highlight casualties of drone strikes and to challenge the official narrative on drones in Pakistan after the screening of a film Unseen War on Saturday.

One way to do this would be to generate a debate on the impact of drone strikes on innocent civilians living in the targeted areas and overcoming the “invisibility” surrounding this technology through information gathering.

Mainstreaming a counter-narrative and collecting information about drones and their victims is not an easy task. It might even seem impossible, given the secrecy surrounding the US drone campaign and the high level of inaccessibility of areas where these strikes are conducted. Yet, there are some attempts to piece together information about drone strikes from disparate sources and make a case against the negative impact of these strikes.

The film, produced by Tactical Technology Collective, an international non-profit linking activism with technology,  showed interviews with journalists, an academic and a technologist to give a basic understanding of the tribal areas and the drone technology being used by the US to target militants there.

 photo 39_zps6de51f7e.jpg

Through the interviews, the film tries to establish that the covert use of drones for killing militants allows its users “political, military and moral invisibility”. This invisibility coupled with the historical unequal treatment of, and control of information in, the tribal areas leads to self-censorship and indifference in journalistic reporting of the strikes.

But the film puts through the important question of whether drone strikes are legitimising targeted killings. It also sheds light on the way information and communications technology could be used to collect and understand information about the strikes and their impact.

In the subsequent discussion, Shahzad Akbar, a legal fellow for UK-based organisation, Reprieve, said the strikes are killing people “without due process by state, by any state.”

The United Nations has condemned drone strikes. These are against the international law and the Constitution of Pakistan, said Akbar, whose organisation is fighting a case in the Peshawar High Court on behalf of civilians killed in the drone attacks.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates at least 416 civilians have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2013, but the bureau also states that only 1.5 per cent of drone casualties can be confirmed as “high-value targets.” The vast majority of drone’s victims — around 76 per cent of the total — fall in the grey area of “alleged combatants.”

During the discussion, Taha Siddiqui, a journalist who also appears in the film, said the narrative is controlled and people are not asking crucial questions about the presence of militants in a given location in the first place.

Another panellist Sadaf Baig, who also appeared in the film, said the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) were an “information black hole” even before 9/11. The panellists agreed that there was a lack of information in the press regarding drone strikes. Akbar said the Pakistani media’s role is especially problematic.

The film’s producer, Marek Tuszynski, who joined the discussion via Skype, said the film is part of a series called “Exposing the Invisible,” which looks at two things: a new way of investigating hidden information through collaboration and use of technology, and shedding light on the concept of invisibility in situations such as drone strikes where the aggressor usually has access to all information but people outside see nothing.

The event was organised by the Digital Rights Foundation, a Pakistani research and advocacy initiative at the ongoing third annual “Cyber Secure Pakistan Conference”.

December 18, 2013 - Comments Off on Pakistan gets YouTube back. Sort of

Pakistan gets YouTube back. Sort of


Who would’ve thought the news earlier this month of YouTube­­ being finally made accessible in Pakistan, albeit as a local search engine, would open a floodgate of criticism?

Minster of State for Information Technology and Telecommunications, Anusha Rehman certainly did not. She probably thought she had done a good turn — wooed many young digital rights activists who had long been demanding unblocking of the website and calmed others who had demanded blocking of objectionable content from it.

“Instead of installing costly filtration mechanisms, Google will easily be able to block blasphemous content on the request of the Pakistan government,” Rehman told the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information and Technology. “Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have also reached a similar arrangement with Google,” she added.

But Farieha Aziz, director at Bolo Bhi, a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy, dismissed the news out right saying: “There is no arrangement between the company and the government, unlike the perception the government is projecting.”

“I don’t want a localised version. Remember what became of Disney in India with everything getting dubbed in Hindi! I would definitely prefer the original version,” said a resolute 12-year old Khadeja Ebrahim, a YouTube buff. “I love YouTube, my entire school loves YouTube and we hate the people who have blocked it,” she added vehemently.

Yasser Latif Hamdani, who had filed a case for unblocking the website, on behalf of digital rights campaigners Bytes For All  is not too happy with the news. His concern is mainly constitutional.

“It is a matter of principle. I do not think it is alright that the government can decide what I should be able to view,” he said. To him this was a clear violation of Article 19, 19-A and 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan. “Therefore, I do not consider it a great service,” he concluded.

The young lawyer uses the popular video-sharing website to listen to debates on law, politics, constitution, philosophy and history. He accesses YouTube through virtual private networks(VPNs), but complains “the experience is just not the same”.

Nighat Dad, of the Digital Rights Foundation doesn’t find the move “encouraging” either and given “how different vague provisions of different laws and constitution have been misused in blocking the content on internet” in the Pakistan” is, in fact, quite wary.  She warns: “I see a huge wave of internet blocking and censorship coming our way.”

“If it happens, it will be bad news!” pointed out Shahzad Ahmad, country director of B4A.

Simply put, said Ahmad, it means legalising censorship of digital content on this platform. “YouTube may then become like Facebook. You will only be able to see that content which authorities will allow us to see,” he explained.

Presenting a doomsday-like scenario, he further said: “A new war will erupt among religious factions and the stronger ones may demand a ban on the others. Human rights movement will suffer hugely, political expression will become much more difficult and alternate discourse will die.”

Many say this will put a stop to hate speech, a major issue stoking religious sects and minorities, in Pakistan, especially on social media.

Ahmad disagreed. “Banning hate speech will not end till perpetrators and banned outfits are taken to task. If you expect that banning their Facebook/Youtube or Twitter will solve the problem, then the answer is a no, a big no!” he said emphatically.

The blocking of YouTube in Pakistan, began last year on 17 September after the website refused to remove the blasphemous 14-minute video clip “Innocence of Muslim”.

The video had led to violent protests and demonstrations across the Muslim world, killing over 50 people.

Ahmad said the decision to block YouTube had nothing to do with upholding religious values or blocking blasphemous content. He suspects it had “political” underpinnings to it.

“The authorities have used this incident to strengthen censorship and filtering in Pakistan, and spent millions of dollars, a useless wastage of the public’s hard earned tax money, as nothing can be blocked on the Internet. Citizens have already resorted to VPNs and circumvention tools.

That is true. Over the past one year, hundreds of die-hard users of this website have relied on proxy servers to work around the ban.

“I just came back from China- and while Facebook and YouTube were banned everywhere, you can access them in Shanghai Freezone especially the Pudong district of Shanghai,” said Hamdani. “So even authoritarian regimes understand the futility of such censorship,” he added.

These proxy servers are passed on word of mouth and go viral within moments, but expire every few weeks. Then the  process of passing the information starts all over again. “You can imagine our desperation,” pointed out Ebrahim.

But while she and her school friends are mostly using the website for downloading songs or cheat videos for games, there are hundreds who depended on it for their bread and butter.

“I can give you scores of examples of small traders,  who marketed and “networked” for expanding their businesses on this free platform because they could not afford to advertise through the mainstream media. The Virtual University, an online learning institute, had uploaded thousands of lectures for its students to access; all that came to a halt. These lectures benefitted not just Pakistani students but millions of those living abroad. Now they have set up their own servers, and which I suspect must have been a huge investment” said Dad.

Toffee produces songs, stories and activities for children in the Urdu language. They went live on July 2011 and banked on YouTube to take it further and the latter did. It met with enormous success at schools, in homes and even among speech therapists, but saw a huge slump in its business. Before the ban was imposed, TOFFEE was uploading two new video programmes per week with 100,000 new visitors a month and serving five times those many repeat visitors.

The minister for IT said that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has been  tasked with drafting an ordinance that would provide intermediary liability protection to Google/YouTube, thereby not holding the company responsible for what users choose to upload to the platform.

Bolo Bhi is quite disturbed by this news. “Why is PTA, a regulatory authority that deals with enforcement and not policy making, being asked to draft the ordinance?” it asked in a press statement. It also asked what became of the expensive filtering equipment that the government had acquired for its telecommunication networks.

Originally published on Index on Censorship.

December 2, 2013 - Comments Off on Pakistan continues silencing dissent through selective web blocks

Pakistan continues silencing dissent through selective web blocks

...While these “targeted bans” are small irritants in his life, as he can easily by pass them, Ali Tufail, 26, a Karachi-based lawyer, finds them wrong on principle as he sees them infringing upon the fundamental rights of the citizen as given in Article 19 and 19 A of Pakistan’s Constitution.

He said the government must give users sound “reasons” why they block a certain website and “what benchmarks or what standards are used to come to the decision to enforce these sudden bans” and if there is a committee that takes these decisions, “we must be told who these people are.”

The same was endorsed by Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation (DRF). “We strongly oppose any form of censorship employed on citizens, curbing their basic right to information.”

However, netizens believe the ban was enforced to block the movie trailer for The Line of Freedom, a film that highlights the issue of the crises in Balochistan province showing Baloch separatists abducted by Pakistani security agencies without charges in a bid to stamp out rebellion.

“Our team did a quick survey with the help of tweeters around the country,” said Dad. “We checked various other movie titles but only Line of Freedom seemed to be blocked on IMDb and several other websites were accessible otherwise.” The DRF termed it an “unprecedented event” because the government had “used all sorts of means to curb the dissidents’ views” from Balochistan.

“I didn’t even know there was a movie by this title which was giving the government so much heartburn and so I just had to see what was so unsavoury that the government had to block the entire website,” said Dad who watched the whole 30 minutes or so of it by circumventing the various firewalls. “This is what happens, when you forcibly close the internet, word gets around and people get curious!”...

Originally published on Index on Censorship.

November 3, 2013 - Comments Off on Bye bye privacy: The world is watching

Bye bye privacy: The world is watching

Silicon chips used in computers and various electronic devices have shrunk with astonishing speed over the past couple of decades. From slower devices spread over an area equivalent to a small living room, we have moved to faster ones less than a centimetre thick.

This decrease in size, though highly beneficial to professionals and students, has side effects as well. The size of surveillance gadgets has also shrunk, and though this might be good news for law enforcement agencies, their abundant availability in the open market is alarming.

“The sale of hidden cameras has increased manifolds in the last six months,” said Rashid, a shopkeeper in a bustling Rawalpindi market who said law-enforcement agencies have no checks in place to monitor or regulate their sale.

The spike in camera-equipped cell phone ownership also has drawbacks.


“The government should urgently draft policies to regulate the open sale of surveillance equipment. The purpose and parameters of their use needs to be checked,” said Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan Director Nighat Dad. She said

to check the abuse of spy equipment, laws are needed to monitor their misuse. Interestingly, despite the presence of the much-criticised Fair Trial Act 2012 that authorises the government to intercept private communications in order to track suspected terrorists, law enforcement agencies have yet to be provided with the necessary gadgetry. Yet, a worrying number of ordinary citizens carry the 007-ish tools with them, leaving police officials annoyed by the government’s failure to adequately equip them.

“These spying devices should be in possession of the police and investigation agencies, but despite several announcements by higher officials, the police department has yet to be equipped,” said a Rawalpindi police officer requesting anonymity.

In the meanwhile, always remember to assume everything online — no matter how secure — can be accessed by the public, and then, the world is watching you.

For complete article, check Tribune.

October 6, 2013 - Comments Off on Pakistan among ‘least free’ countries for internet freedom

Pakistan among ‘least free’ countries for internet freedom

ISLAMABAD: A report on the level of internet and digital media freedom in 60 countries has revealed that Pakistan is among the bottom ten `least free` countries of the world.

The Freedom on the Net 2013 report, in which the countries are ranked from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), has scored Pakistan 67 and a status of 'not free', while Iceland was at the top with a score of 6.

It was researched and compiled by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan along with research analysts of independent watchdog Freedom House.

Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director, Nighat Dad said that Pakistan remains one of the worst countries when it comes to online freedom of speech, user rights and citizens' privacy.

She further added that the state has been rigorously trying to implement the best of surveillance set-ups to create a kind of watchdog upon activists, journalists and a common citizen on the name of war against terrorism.

The report suggests that despite the growing number of internet users in the country, there have been various political and social obstacles by successive governments that came into power, in the name of fighting terrorism and preserving Islam.

Only urban cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar have access to better quality broadband services, however, 'bureaucratic hurdles' are causing a problem for the development of 3G or 4G networks in the country.

The list places neighbouring India in the 'partly free category' with a score of 47, while China and Iran score even lower than Pakistan with scores of 86 and 91 respectively.

Originally published on Times of India.

October 3, 2013 - Comments Off on ’انٹرنیٹ پر آزادئ اظہار، پاکستان بدترین ملک‘

’انٹرنیٹ پر آزادئ اظہار، پاکستان بدترین ملک‘

ایک بین الاقوامی غیر سرکاری تنظیم کے مطابق، پاکستان انٹرنیٹ کی آزادی سے متعلق درجہ بندی میں 2012 کے مقابلے میں 2013 میں مزید نیچے چلا گیا ہے۔

امریکی غیر سرکاری تنظیم فریڈم ہاؤس کی جمعرات کو شائع ہونے والی رپورٹ ’انٹرنیٹ پر آزادی 2013‘ میں کہا گیا ہے کہ پاکستان میں جمہوری طریقے سے اقتدار کی تاریخی منتقلی کے بعد بھی حکومت نے انٹرنیٹ پر سیاسی و سماجی مواد بلاک کرنے کا عمل جاری رکھا ہے جبکہ موبائل فون اور انٹرنیٹ پر بظاہر نگرانی ہو رہی ہے۔ 

فریڈم ہاؤس کی سالانہ رپورٹ 60 ممالک میں کی گئی تحقیق پر مبنی ہے اور پاکستان سے متعلق اس رپورٹ کا باب غیر سرکاری تنظیم ڈیجیٹل رائٹس فاؤنڈیشن پاکستان اور فریڈم ہاؤس نے مل کر تیار کیا ہے۔

رپورٹ کے مطابق پاکستان ان 34 ممالک میں شامل ہے جہاں انٹرنیٹ کی آزادی کے حوالے سے منفی رجحان پایا گیا ہے۔ پاکستان کا شمار انٹرنیٹ پر آزادی اظہار کے حوالے سے درجہ بندی میں آخری دس ممالک میں ہوتا ہے۔

فریڈم ہاؤس جمہوریت، انسانی حقوق اور سیاسی آزادی پر تحقیق کرتی ہے۔

"انٹرنیٹ پر آزادئ اظہار، صارفین کے حقوق اور شہریوں کی پرائیوسی یا نجی زندگی کے حوالے سے پاکستان کا شمار بدترین ممالک میں ہوتا ہے"

نگہت داد

ڈیجیٹل رائٹس فاؤنڈیشن کی طرف سے جاری ایک پریس ریلیز میں ادارے کی چیف ایگزیکٹو ڈائریکٹر نگہت داد کا کہنا ہے کہ ’انٹرنیٹ پر آزادئ اظہار، صارفین کے حقوق اور شہریوں کی پرائیوسی یا نجی زندگی کے حوالے سے پاکستان کا شمار بدترین ممالک میں ہوتا ہے۔‘

انہوں نے مزید کہا کہ ’گذشتہ برس سے شدت پسندی کے خلاف جنگ کے نام پر ریاست سیاسی کارکنوں، صحافیوں اور عام شہریوں کی نگرانی کے لیے ٹیکنولوجی کا استعمال کرنے کی کوشش کر رہی ہے۔‘

رپورٹ میں کہا گیا ہے کہ ’سنسرشپ سیاسی مقاصد کی عکاسی کرتی ہے‘۔

انٹرنیشنل ٹیلی کمیونکیشن یونین کے مطابق 2012 میں پاکستان کی دس فیصدآبادی انٹرنیٹ استعمال کرتی تھی جبکہ مقامی میڈیا کا کہنا ہے کہ 2013 میں یہ شرح بڑھ کر 16 فیصد ہو گئی ہے جس میں سے 8 فیصد صارفین موبائل فون پر انٹرنیٹ استعمال کرتے ہیں۔

رپورٹ میں کہا گیا ہے کہ سماجی رابطوں کی ویب سائٹس کے ذریعے سٹیزن جرنلزم یا شہری صحافت میں بھی اضافہ دیکھا گیا ہے۔ مثال کے طور پر انتخابات کے دوران دھاندلی کے الزامات کے حوالے سے ویڈیوز اور تصاویر روایتی میڈیا کے بجائے فیس بک اور ٹوئٹر پر پہلے منظرِ عام پر آئیں۔

"پاکستان ٹیلی کمیونیکیشن اتھارٹی کے پاس بلاک ہونے والی ویب سائٹس کی فہرست موجود ہے لیکن تفصیلات نامعلوم ہیں۔ نہ تو کوئی رہنما اصول عام ہیں جس سے بلاک کرنے کی وجہ پتہ چلے اور نہ ہی پابندی لگانے کا طریقۂ کار بتایا جاتا ہے"

فریڈم ہاؤس رپورٹ

فروری 2013 میں فیر ٹرائل ایکٹ قانون سینیٹ میں منظور ہوا جس کے تحت ذاتی رابطوں کی نگرانی کے لیے قانون نافذ کرنے والی ایجنسیاں جوڈیشل وارنٹ حاصل کر سکتی ہیں۔

فریڈم آن دا نیٹ 2013 رپورٹ کا کہنا ہے کہ ’ناقدین نے اس قانون کی مذمت کرتے ہوئے کہا ہے کہ اس کے الفاظ ایسے ہیں کہ قانون کا غلط استعمال آسانی سے ہو سکتا ہے جبکہ کئی ایجنسیوں کو وسیع پیمانے پر اختیارات دیے گئے ہیں۔‘

تاہم وکیل اور سابق عبوری وزیرِ قانون احمر بلال صوفی نے بی بی سی کی نامہ نگار عنبر شمسی کو بتایا کہ پاکستان وہ واحد ملک ہے جس میں سکیورٹی اور شہریوں کے حقوق کے درمیان توازن رکھا گیا ہے۔

’کسی اور ملک میں ہائی کورٹ کے جج کو یہ اختیار نہیں دیا گیا ہے کہ وہ تمام ثبوتوں کی چانچ پڑتال کر کے ہی نگرانی کی اجازت دیں۔‘

ان کا کہنا ہے کہ پاکستان میں اس بات کا غیر معمولی حد تک خیال رکھا گیا ہے تاکہ شہریوں کی انفرادی آزادی اور ریاست کی سکیورٹی قائم کرنے کی ضروریات ساتھ ساتھ ممکن ہوں تاہم اس قانون پر اب تک عمل نہیں ہو پایا کیونکہ متعلقہ جج نامزد نہیں ہوئے۔

اسلام مخالف فلم

پاکستانی حکام کا کہنا ہےکہ یو ٹیوب پر پابندی تب تک رہے گی جب تک گوگل اسلام مخالف فلم ’انوسنس آف مسلمز‘ کو ہٹا نہیں دیتا یا ملک گیر انٹرنیٹ کی چھان بین کا نظام قائم نہیں ہوتا۔

دوسری جانب، یوٹیوب پر اکتوبر 2012 سے عائد کی گئی پابندی بھی ایک بڑی وجہ ہے کہ پاکستان میں انٹرنیٹ سے متعلق شہریوں کے حقوق پر کام کرنے والے کارکنوں نے تشویش کا اظہار کیا ہے۔

رپورٹ کے مطابق پاکستان میں یو ٹیوب کے ساتھ ساتھ بیس ہزار دیگر ویب ساٹس کو بھی بلاک کیا گیا ہے، جن میں بلوچ اور سندھی قوم پرستوں کی ویب سائٹس اور فحش ویب سائٹس شامل ہیں۔

پاکستانی حکام کا کہنا ہےکہ یو ٹیوب پر پابندی تب تک رہے گی جب تک گوگل اسلام مخالف فلم ’انوسنس آف مسلمز‘ کو ہٹا نہیں دیتا یا ملک گیر انٹرنیٹ کی چھان بین کا نظام قائم نہیں ہوتا۔

رپورٹ کے مطابق حکومتِِِ پاکستان نے جنوری 2003 سے آن لائن مواد کو بلاک کرنے کی کوشش کی ہے۔ اس پر تنقید کرتے ہوئے رپورٹ میں لکھا گیا ہے کہ ’پاکستان ٹیلی کمیونیکیشن آتھارٹی کے پاس بلاک ہونے والی ویب سائٹس کی فہرست موجود ہے لیکن تفصیلات نامعلوم ہیں۔ نہ تو کوئی رہنما اصول عام ہیں جس سے بلاک کرنے کی وجہ پتہ چلے اور نہ ہی پابندی لگانے کا طریقۂ کار بتایا جاتا ہے۔‘