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April 5, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF Submits Reponses for the UN Secretary-General Report on the Safety of Journalists

DRF Submits Reponses for the UN Secretary-General Report on the Safety of Journalists

Digital Rights Foundation made its submission to the UN Secretary General report on the safety of journalists on the issue of impunity. In the responses, DRF pointed out that female journalists are susceptible to discrimination and gender-based obstacles both from within their professional spaces and outside it. Female journalists in Pakistan face a double-bind because of their gender: at one level they face the same level of threats and surveillance that journalists face in Pakistan (the fourth most dangerous country for journalist according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)), and the secondly the gender-specific obstacles stemming from being a female journalist in Pakistan. Their reporting on so-called sensitive topics such as civil-military relationships, blasphemy laws, and stories contradicting the state narrative make them more susceptible to state and social surveillance.

Within Pakistan, the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 protects female journalists from discrimination and harassment within the workplace. The impact of this law is not as clear-cut. Journalists who have the lodged sexual harassment complaints within media houses have faced a backlash at times.

In terms of international humanitarian law violations, journalists are quite susceptible to conflict driven violence and attacks from terrorists, sectarian groups and armed operations. Many journalists have lost their lives while covering events that have been attacked. Compensation in these cases takes place as per labour and social security laws. There have been several proposal for the protection and welfare of journalists but nothing concrete has been passed.

Through our research “Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan”, we have learnt that media houses are far from perfect when it comes to addressing rampant sexism within the organization. The respondents in our research told us that these organizations are not equipped to support women when they file cases of sexual harassment. Furthermore, female journalists posit that line managers and editors tend not to take online abuse and digital surveillance as seriously, especially when it hasn’t translated into physical threats. This puts female journalists at a huge disadvantage because they are more likely to receive physiological threats and surveillance.

Digital Rights Foundation conducts workshops and training sessions for female journalists. Often times digital security and self care is a neglected aspect of security for journalists and a facet that is often ignored in mainstream discussions. For this reason DRF sees itself as addressing a real gap in terms of safety of journalists. These sessions are being held in conjunction with press clubs to deliver basic anti-harassment and digital security training to reporters, editors and web-based journalists. A digital security handbook (living document) for journalists has also been developed as part of our training program with basic security guidelines and tips for female journalists.

April 5, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF’s Submission to UN Human Rights Commission For The Report To Bridge Gender Digital Divide

DRF’s Submission to UN Human Rights Commission For The Report To Bridge Gender Digital Divide

Digital Rights Foundation submitted responses to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare a report on ways to bridge gender digital divide from a human rights perspective. In its submission, DRF identified the dire need to address the digital divide promoted by gender, and that women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of their position in society, workplace and even in relation to their own families with the same wage bracket. For these reasons barrier to digital technologies and digital life are more enhanced for women.

Political reasons also act as barriers to access to digital technologies. For instance, the internet has been shut down in FATA for security reasons, as well as to silence political dissent. While this might seem like gender-neutral factor, our research has found that women are more impacted by such politically motivated shutdowns given that they cannot travel to internet cafes that have sprung up in the region.

Digital Rights Foundation has also been critical of applications geared towards women. Several smart-phone applications are emerging that are aimed specifically at women, both by the state and the private sector, and there is a need to critically analyse the claims that these apps make regarding increased security for women. Furthermore, as space opens up in Pakistan for web-based delivery of services, DRF is engaging in research that aims to highlight the privacy violations as well the impact on the women who use these services. This is precisely why DRF is working towards privacy and data protection legislation that will ensure more rights for users and protect vulnerable groups, such as women, from surveillance and discrimination.

The recommendations that DRF proposed to bridge digital gender divide emphasized on the importance to make the industry stakeholders aware of their responsibility to ensure better privacy policies when it comes to the personal data of users. Data breaches and violations of privacy can have serious consequences for women. In Pakistan, with the absence of data protection laws and obligations, it is even more important to engage with the industry and communicate their responsibility in protecting users’ data and right to privacy.

The tech community should take measures to ensure the promotion of more women to leadership positions and to have more representation from women and marginalized communities. This representation is important because the presence of women will mean more gender-sensitive policies and a better understanding of the issues that women face. it is important to ensure that the companies working towards gender issues and on gender empowerment engage with these themes meaningfully rather than superficial efforts or as marketing ploys. Many tech companies own social media platforms which are the primary site of online harassment, bullying, blackmail and violence. These companies need to have contextually-sensitive policies for protecting the privacy, dignity and personal integrity of women in online spaces. Tech companies also need to ensure that efforts to ensure accessibility should be done in the principle of net neutrality and the principle of free access should be upheld in efforts to improve coverage and accessibility.

April 4, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation Submits Universal Periodic Review 2017 Report for Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation Submits Universal Periodic Review 2017 Report for Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation made a submission for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Pakistan 2017 on the topic of “Gender Rights in Pakistan: Online violence, Free Speech and Access to Information”. The aim of this submission was to advocate for the digital-specific rights for the citizens of Pakistan. The report incorporated the issues of gendered digital violence, digital rights, freedom of expression (FOE), privacy, violence against women and surveillance.

The report highlighted the issues of digital rights and violence with regards to women and sexual minorities, including the right to speech in online spaces, right to privacy, freedom from digital surveillance, electronic violence against women (eVAW), and access to digital technologies and spaces. The submission refers to the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular Freedom of Expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice”.

The report addresses the need to apply a gendered perspective to digital rights, and recommendations need to be injected into the UPR process that specifically address eVAW and the digital gender divide. It outlines the major incidents and advancements around access to digital technology, including the lowest internet usage density in Pakistan, the suspension of telecom and internet services, and the gender gap in usage and ownership of mobile phones in Pakistan. It also highlights that women, especially women journalists, women human rights defenders and activists, experience internet different from men. They are denied access to spaces due to gender disparity, stereotypical and cultural expectations on how women should behave online, cyber harassment, sexualised threats and violence stemming from online activities-impeding women’s right to free speech online, political participation, information and association.

The submission report states that since the last UPR submission process, Pakistan’s situation of free speech has declined both online and offline due to a concerted effort on part of the GOP to regulate online spaces. With the passage of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the government has been granted sweeping powers on the online content. Whereas, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance 2002 allows PEMRA to regulate speech and programming on electronic media. It also mentions the patterns of censorship by the Government of Pakistan on multiple occasions without prior notices and further explanations.

Lastly, the report puts forward the recommendations to ensure the gender based digital rights in Pakistan. These recommendations include campaigns specifically for women to increase digital literacy in rural areas, ensuring affordable and unhindered access to the internet and electronic devices, providing cheaper and subsidized internet access to women along with special discounts to promote the ownership of internet connections among women, amending or repealing legislation that violates Pakistan’s international obligations regarding freedom of expression, setting up dedicated departments for online violence against women in FIA's Cyber Crime Wing (Nr3C) and other law enforcing agencies (LEAs) with increased female staff and properly gender-sensitized officers, legislating data protection law in line with international human rights principles, and awareness campaigns around online harassment, digital security, and the mechanisms in place to address it.

March 6, 2017 - Comments Off on Fake News, Obscenity, and Cyber Harassment: February ’17

Fake News, Obscenity, and Cyber Harassment: February ’17

February 2017 wasn't an easy ride for digital rights here in Pakistan. As we still await one of the five missing bloggers to return home, the law enforcement has been busy taking away citizens' rights to speak online under the draconian laws, poor journalism ethics ruled the TV screens and caused chaos in the country, and Digital Rights Foundation's Cyber Harassment Helpline completed its 3 months of operation. Here's a round up of the incidents that had out attention!

Samar Abbas: Still Missing

While it came to light at the end of January that 4 of the missing activists had returned home, Samar Abbas still missing remains missing. Samar’s disappearance has been linked to the series of enforced disappearances of activists and bloggers at the start of January--Samar was reported missing 11th January, 2017. Given the lack of information by the state authorities and the returned activists themselves, there is no clarity on why the activists were picked up or the reason Samar in particular remains missing.

Samar’s wife, Najamus Sahar, has spoken about the emotional toll the disappearance has taken on her family.

IMG-20170112-WA0030 (1)

In a petition directed at the missing bloggers, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, through a single bench at the Islamabad High Court, ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block pages or websites containing blasphemous material on social media. It is unclear how this order will be interpreted by the PTA. Furthermore, if the PTA chooses to follow the order what criteria is being used to determine content as blasphemous? While the PTA is at it, it would be great it they can also remove material containing hate speech against minorities and marginalised communities.

The Trend of Fake News and its Aftermath

The term “fake news” has been weaponised by the current US president to target any news outlet that dares to fact-check him, however it has also become a referential point of analysis for pervasive news items and rumours that are demonstratively wrong, yet are still shared on social media and even picked up by the mainstream media. In times of mass confusion and lack of trust in official statements, fake news can become an agent of panic and paranoia. In the aftermath of the Lahore Defence bomb blast/cylinder explosion (there is still no clarity on which of these is fake news), panic gripped the streets of Lahore as social media, mainstream news channels and WhatsApp groups were inundated by the news of a bomb blast in Gulberg. 31 news channels were initially served a notice by PEMRA in the wake of this incident, out of which 29 news channels are fined and asked to air an apology on March 6th, 2017 between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM in the same magnitude as the fake news was aired.

PEMRA Apology notice

For more clarity on fake news and how to counter it, read Hija Kamran’s post “F is for Fake News!” for DRF here.

Arrest of Nasir Khan Jan and "Obscenity" as a tool for Censorship

Social media celebrity Nasir Khan Jan is known for his videos and covers. However on 8th February, 2017 was arrested and detained by the Police on grounds of “obscenity”. While he was granted bail by a lower court in Lower Dir on 11th February, 2017, his case has been referred to the Cyber Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).


The police has informed the media that he was arrested under Section 107 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with “instigation” of others. It is unclear what exactly the police are accusing Nasir Khan Jan of doing. This is a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression in online spaces and a case in which the vague terminology of obscenity is being used to intimidate online personalities.

Read DRF’s statement condemning the arrest here.

Cyber Harassment Helpline completes in third month!

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline has marks 3 months of successful operations. Launched on 1st December, 2017, the Helpline has handled over 358 complaints in the short span of its operations. The Helpline Team hopes to expand and improve its services and outreach. Several innovative approaches towards outreach have already been taken.

The detailed report on the Cyber Harassment Helpline's first 3 months will be launched in coming days.


February 2, 2017 - Comments Off on Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan

Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan


This is a pilot study that explores the gendered surveillance that female journalists experience.

The study details the experiences of seven female journalists and the surveillance that they face in the course of their work and beyond. The research focuses on the gendered forms and the different sources of surveillance, including the state, audience members and political groups. The female journalists interviewed for the study stated that not only were they surveilled by state authorities, but are also subjected to constant social surveillance in the form of abuse on social media - largely directed at their gender and appearance, rather than their work. In addition to mapping the forms of surveillance faced by female journalists, the report also explores the impact that this constant monitoring has, in terms of the psychological toll, self-censorship and retreat from digital spaces.

Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan

January 12, 2016 - Comments Off on YouTube Returns to Pakistan, But on Whose Terms?

YouTube Returns to Pakistan, But on Whose Terms?

YouTube's localised logo for Pakistan

YouTube's localised logo.

Internet users in Pakistan may have noticed that YouTube no longer appears to be persona non grata. The extremely popular video-sharing website, banned in 2012 by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for refusing to remove the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video, appears to not only be unblocked, but is also a localised Pakistan-specific version. Google announced the unveiling of official region-specific versions of YouTube this month, not just for Pakistan, but for Nepal and Sri Lanka as well. According to Google's official blog for the Asia-Pacific region, “Pakistanis love YouTube's diverse music offerings.”

Before we celebrate and rush to watch adorable cat videos without having to jump through digital hoops, it is important that Google – which purchased YouTube in 2005 – and the PTA come clean as to the terms of the agreement that have led to YouTube's apparent unblocking.

Google has in recent years declared that it is pushing to become more transparent. Indeed, it has reported on the number of take-down requests, and user information requests, that it has received from Pakistan, and other governments. YouTube, furthermore, had been blocked – and remained blocked - by the PTA because of a refusal by Google to block material which the latter had construed to be blasphemous. Have the Californian technology giant and the regulatory body come to a tacit agreement? As with the PTA's showdown with Blackberry that saw the latter stay in Pakistan, have compromises been made, and by whom?

YouTube – and by extension Google – has laid out terms and policies on its website, and released “Community Guidelines” that it asks its users to follow, and they should not “try to look for loopholes or attempt to weasel your way out of the guidelines – just understand them and try to respect the spirit in which they were created.” The Community Guidelines state what they do not approve of, and what is permissible. However, these are general, and are being applied across the board, across the various localised versions of YouTube. The terms and policies that YouTube PK shares with its users link back to the standard international and US texts, and make no clear mention of the Pakistani context.

"Don't Cross The Line": YouTube

"Don't Cross The Line": YouTube

With the return of YouTube to Pakistani cyberspace, we urge Google to come forward with the terms and conditions under which YouTube has been “unblocked” in Pakistan, and what it means for the freedom of expression of Pakistani users.

Google is a member of the Global Network Initiative, "a multi-stakeholder group" that seeks to create "a collaborative approach to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector". Ranking Digital Rights gave Google an overall score of 65%, its highest (with caveats) for tech companies in 2015, reflecting its public commitment, to transparency, freedom of expression, privacy and human rights.

YouTube has come back to Pakistan, but Google's public commitment to transparency means that it must be clear as to its terms and policies, and how they impact the freedom of expression of Pakistani internet users.

Written by Adnan Chaudhri

December 16, 2015 - Comments Off on UN Expert Urges Pakistan to Ensure Protection of Freedom of Expression in draft Cybercrime Bill

UN Expert Urges Pakistan to Ensure Protection of Freedom of Expression in draft Cybercrime Bill

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, recently shared with the Government of Pakistan his concerns with the draft Cybercrime Bill currently pending before the National Assembly.

Digital Rights Foundation shared its analysis of the Cybercrime bill with Mr. David Kaye for the statement, which can be found here.

December 1, 2015 - Comments Off on Joint statement on The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015

Joint statement on The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015

Joint Statement from ARTICLE 19, Association for Progressive Communications, Digital Rights Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, and others on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 Pakistan:

ARTICLE 19, Association for Progressive Communications, Digital Rights Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, and other organisations remain seriously concerned by the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill in Pakistan. Regrettably, despite negotiations and revisions in the last six months through a hard won multi-stakeholder consultation process, the Bill still contains provisions that pose a grave risk to freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and of access to information in Pakistan. We urge members of the National Assembly of Pakistan to take a stand against the Bill by voting against it in its current form. The Bill in its current form should be scrapped and the process of drafting a new bill, ensuring full compliance with international human rights standards, should begin with the inclusion of civil society, industry and public consultation at the earliest possible stage.

The process by which the Prevention of Electronic Crime Bill has reached the National Assembly is deeply concerning. Forcing the bill through committee, without consensus having been reached, and with on-going vocal criticisms by members of the committee show that this bill is not ready to be considered to be passed into law. Furthermore, we remain very concerned that the Bill contains several provisions which pose a threat to the respect and protection of the rights of privacy and freedom of expression. The amendments that have been made in the September 2015 version of the bill are cosmetic at best and none of the concerns raised by committee members, civil society, industry, or technologists have been adequately addressed.

Section 34 of the Bill is still overly broad and fails to include adequate safeguards for the protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, in breach of Pakistan's obligations under international human rights law. Even after calls from stakeholders to remove the section entirely, this power remains in the Bill before the National Assembly. It empowers the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to order service providers to remove or block access to any speech, sound, data, writing, image, or video, without any approval from a court. By omitting judicial oversight, the Bill, if passed, would write a blank cheque for abuse and overreach of blocking powers. Although the Bill provides for the possibility of a complaints procedure, it does not require such a procedure to be put in place, nor is there any requirement that this procedure involve a right of appeal to an independent tribunal. Even a right of appeal will be inadequate given the sheer breadth of the blocking powers contained in section 34. Such a broad power should not return in any capacity in a future draft of the Bill.

The amended Bill continues to raise significant concerns about unchecked intelligence sharing with foreign governments, along with related human rights abuses. If adopted, the Bill will still allow the Federal Government to unilaterally share intelligence gathered from investigations with foreign intelligence agencies like the US National Security Agency, without any independent oversight. Given the role of intelligence in US drone strikes in Pakistan, without significantly stronger safeguards, this puts the security and privacy of ordinary Pakistanis at risk. Cooperation between intelligence agencies needs to be governed by specific laws, which should be clear and accessible, and overseen by an independent oversight body capable of conducting due diligence to ensure intelligence is not shared when it puts human rights at risk, or results in violations. As the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated last year in her report on the right to privacy in the digital age, intelligence sharing arrangements that lack clear limitations risk violating human rights law. The Bill’s provisions do not come close to achieving this.

The amended version of the Bill continues to mandate that service providers retain data about Pakistanis’ telephone and email communications for a minimum of one year. This requirement drastically expands the surveillance powers of the Pakistan government. The European Union Court of Justice and UN human rights experts found laws mandating the blanket collection and retention of data to be an unlawful and disproportionate interference with the right to privacy, and as a result many other countries are rolling back their data retention legislation. Pakistan’s reluctance to drop this proposal to expand data retention is a regressive move that undermines the privacy rights of all Pakistani people

The new Bill continues to use overly broad terms that lack sufficiently clear definitions. The law empowers the government to “seize” programs or data, defining seizing as to “make and retain a copy of the data”, but does not specify the procedures through the seized data is retained, stored, deleted or further copied. By leaving the creation of a procedure for the seizure of data to the discretion of the Federal Government, the law is critically lacking in setting out clear and accessible rules in line with international human rights law. This, along with many sections of the Bill, endangers the ability for journalists in Pakistan to work freely without the risk of having their work seized, undermining press freedom and freedom of expression.

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has stressed “a clear and pressing need for vigilance in ensuring compliance of any surveillance policy or practice with international human rights law”. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill in Pakistan does not provide that opportunity for vigilance from independent stakeholders. As a result its provisions are dangerously threatening to the rights of freedom of expression and privacy of everyone across Pakistan.

The Bill currently before the National Assembly has failed to address the serious concerns expressed by civil society. As such, the Bill, if adopted as currently drafted, could result in serious violations of human rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression. The debate on the floor of the National Assembly should be an opportunity to point out the flaws of this bill and to reiterate the bill is not fit for purpose. The slate needs to be wiped clean and a new bill worked on bringing it into line with fundamental rights found in Pakistan's constitution and international human rights treaties. As it stands, these rights are being casually brushed aside.


Association For Progressive Communications
Blue Veins
Bolo Bhi
Bytes for All
Digital Rights Foundation
Freedom Network
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Individual Land
Media Matters
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders

Joint statement On the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, Dec 2015

November 15, 2015 - Comments Off on Facebook’s 2015 Global Government Requests Report Highlights Growing No. of Demands by Pak Govt

Facebook’s 2015 Global Government Requests Report Highlights Growing No. of Demands by Pak Govt

No. of User/Account requests made by the Pakistani Govt between January - June2015

The no. of user/account requests made by the Pakistani government between January - June 2015. For earlier Pakistan government requests, please click on the image.

In the wake of Snowden, it has become important for large tech corporations to be transparent about their interactions with governments ie requests to either access or remove data from particular social media or websites. Facebook and Google have in recent years released transparency reports that announce the number of data removal/access requests by governments.

On Wednesday 11th 2015 Facebook released their newest Global Government Requests Report, “as part of a broader effort to reform government surveillance in countries around the world by providing more transparency" on a country by country basis. The report can be found here.

Relating to Pakistan in particular, it was revealed that for the period January 2015 – June 2015 there were 192 government requests, with 275 users/accounts requested, with 58.33% of these requests resulting with some “data...produced.” This is an increase from the July 2014 – December 2014 reporting period, where 100 requests were made, 152 users/accounts data requested, and 42% of requests resulting in some data. Going by the increase in current and past government request data, it is more than likely that the number of requests by governments will increase over time.

Facebook and other tech corporations may be taking steps to prove their commitment to respect and protect their users, but it is not enough to take them at their word. While one can approve of this action being taken by Facebook and other corporations, we must be cautious and restrained in our praise. Facebook and other large tech corporations are usually reliant on these same governments to allow them to operate in non-US territories. The 2013 Snowden leaks also revealed that Facebook was an active participant in the NSA's PRISM surveillance programme, wherein information was shared by tech companies with US intelligence agencies, ostensibly to detect foreign threats to the United States of America. And in 2010, let us not forget, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.

The 2015 Corporate Accountability Index released by Ranking Digital Rights – designed to evaluate “world’s most powerful Internet and telecommunications companies on their public commitments and disclosed policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy “ - ranks the commitment of Facebook and others in regards to the quality of those steps being taken. In regards to Facebook, it found that its transparency efforts were not factoring in Instagram and Whatsapp data – two platforms that it purchased in 2012 and 2014, respectively, with a combined global user-base of 13 million users. Ranking Digital Rights gave Facebook an overall score of 41%, which breaks down into 62% for commitment, 35% for freedom of expression, and 36% for privacy. Its score places Facebook 6th out of the 16 corporations evaluated. The 2015 Corporate Accountability Index can be found here.

As Ranking Digital Rights and other watchdog organisations observe, tech corporations “exert growing influence over the political and civil lives of people all over the world”, and a result these “companies share a responsibility to respect human rights.” Facebook and its fellow tech companies must do more to shoulder that responsibility, and must do more to prove that the safety, welfare and rights of their users matter to them, or else they could face a growing backlash from the users, their customer base.

October 29, 2015 - Comments Off on DRF & The Last Word Are Battling The Cybercrime Bill! (Event)

DRF & The Last Word Are Battling The Cybercrime Bill! (Event)

Battling The Cyber Crime Bill 2015

Battling The Cyber Crime Bill 2015

People of Lahore! The Digital Rights Foundation is partnering with The Last Word to shed light on the highly controversial upcoming cybercrime bill, and how its passage will result in a disturbing and universal clampdown on freedom of speech.

At present the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015, as passed by the IT Standing Committee of the National Assembly, is due to be presented in an upcoming National Assembly session. In its current form the bill exposes all of us to prosecution solely for the expression of our political affiliations, our outrage against injustice, and in some cases, just for holding an opinion contrary to the ruling class.

This is an assault on our civil liberties and we don't want this to be the last time we're able to use social media to agitate and fight against an injustice.

Come join us and our speakers: Asma Jehangir, Saroop Ijaz from Human Rights Watch Nighat Dad from Digital Rights Foundation , Asad Jamal from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan & Angbeen Mirza. Join us in battling this vexing bill at 6.30 pm on Friday, October 30th at The Last Word.