All Posts in Online Censorship

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.

September 21, 2015 - Comments Off on Standing Comm. Passes Draft of PECB, Unseen by Comm. Members

Standing Comm. Passes Draft of PECB, Unseen by Comm. Members

On September 17th 2015, the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Information Technology passed the final draft form of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which will now be sent to the National Assembly for final approval.

Disturbingly, members of the committee were not shown the draft form of the bill before its passage. PPP MNAs Shazia Marri and Nauman Islam Sheikh, and PML-N MNA Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari, rightly objected, stressing that the draft bill could not be approved until they and the other members of the committee had read the finalised draft.

Capt Mohammad Safdar (Ret'd), Standing Committee chairman, overruled these objections, saying that as he had seen the draft, that would be sufficient grounds to pass the draft.

Final Draft of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, September 17th 2015.

See our previous and ongoing coverage of the cybercrimes bill, here:

April 15, 2014 - Comments Off on An open letter to Senate of Pakistan regarding Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2014 "Pakistan’s new law: no free speech… and you’re a terrorist unless you can prove otherwise"

An open letter to Senate of Pakistan regarding Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2014 "Pakistan’s new law: no free speech… and you’re a terrorist unless you can prove otherwise"

Irfan-Cybercrime1-660x330 Respected Senators,

The recent uproar over the Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2014 has created quite a stir in the country’s digital media platforms, and rightly so. The Government of Pakistan has recently passed, what appears to be, the most draconian and regressive anti-terror law in the National Assembly. The Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2014 has already been signed by the President and will soon be presented - and most likely approved - by the Senate on April 20, 2014.

The proposed law clearly inhibits fundamental rights to freedom of speech, privacy and peaceful assembly on the Internet. In its current form, the law could be used to suppress peaceful political opposition and criticism of government policy online, on social media for instance. In its schedule of offences, the law also lists “crimes against computers including cyber crimes, internet offenses and other offenses related to information technology etc". Also, instances where a person who commits any crime mentioned in the scheduled offenses becomes a cognizable and non bailable offense.

Any person accused within the sphere of scheduled offences will be liable to face a charge on grounds of reasonable evidence against him/her, and will be assumed to be engaged in waging a war or insurrection against Pakistan, unless he/she establishes his/her non-involvement in the offence, which reverses the burden of proof and undermines the right to due process and fair trial. The scheduled offence shall be punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to 10 years, with fine and confiscation of property.

The provision regarding internet crimes is so vague that it can be abused against  journalists, politicians, minorities, students, activists, political dissidents and groups who are using the internet for activities which would not in any way be counted and ascertained as terrorism. From a due process perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a very strong case for introducing cyber crimes in the PPO 2014, when a separate Electronic Cyber Crime bill is already being drafted. So, what is the true intent of introducing an additional or supplementary provisions with regard to “Internet Crimes”?

The state of open access to internet in our country is dismal. In the 2013 Freedom on the Net report, Pakistan’s Internet freedom status in 2012-13 was ‘Not Free.’ The introduction to the report states: Successive military and civilian governments have adopted various measures to control the internet in Pakistan, which they frame as necessary for combating terrorism. In Freedom of Press, Pakistan ranks 159 among 179 countries. In the planned Ordinance, provision related to warrant less raids is in violation of Article 14 of our Constitution.

With the Electronic Cyber Crime bill, Pakistan has the momentous opportunity to set the benchmark in South Asia and the Global South in right to free speech online. This right necessitates freedom from persecution for all citizens who use digital communications platforms to express opinions, dissent, or critique against the state. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” 

In an era where individuals, non-governmental organizations and international institutions rely on the multiplier effect of social media and digital news outlets to highlight issues of injustice and human rights violations, it doesn’t augur well for the country’s freedom of speech and human rights index to even consider this Ordinance.

Digital Rights foundation demands and calls on the senators to protect the rights to freedom of speech and privacy in accordance with Pakistan's obligations under international conventions, remove the clause of cyber crimes from Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2014 and revise the law with the consultation of relevant stake holders.


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Digital Rights Foundation is a research based advocacy organisation based in Pakistan focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on ground and online.  We firmly believe that freedom of speech and open access to online content is critically important for the development of socio-economy of the country.

March 25, 2014 - Comments Off on Pakistan: The Draft Computer Crimes Law Endangers Freedom of Expression

Pakistan: The Draft Computer Crimes Law Endangers Freedom of Expression


Lahore, March 25, 2014: ARTICLE 19 and Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan are concerned about the draft Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of Pakistan 2014 (Draft Law), currently being prepared for presentation in the Pakistan Parliament. Although the Draft Law contains a number of welcome procedural safeguards, several provisions violate international standards on freedom of expression. We call on the Pakistan Government to amend the Draft Law in accordance with our recommendations below before it is submitted for the consideration of the Parliament.

The Draft Law, which has been drafted by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications, establishes specific computer crimes and procedural rules of investigation, prosecution and trial of the offences. The Draft Law incriminates the illegal access to and interference with program or data or information systems, cyber terrorism, electronic forgery and fraud, the making of devices for use in offences and unauthorized interception.

ARTICLE 19 and Digital Rights Foundation welcome the efforts of the Pakistani Government to provide adequate procedural safeguards in the context of cybercrime investigations. However, we recall that the regulation of computer crimes engages the protection of human rights that must be considered in the respective legislation, in particular:

• Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan acceded in 2010, defines the right to freedom of expressions and sets out the requirements for limitations on the right. States can limit freedom of expression only in the interest of protection of reputation, national security, public order, health and morals. The limitations must be clearly defined in law and be necessary and proportionate to secure one of those aims. States must refrain from exercising this discretion in a discriminatory manner. Article 17 of the ICCPR guarantees the freedom of individuals from arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy and correspondence.

• General Comment No.34, which provides authoritative guidance on the interpretation of Article 19 of the ICCPR, states that extreme care must be taken in crafting and applying laws that purport to restrict expression to protect national security. Whether characterised as cyber-crime laws, treason laws, official secrets laws or sedition laws they must conform to the strict requirements of Article 19(3).

• In General Comment 16 of on the Right to Privacy, the UN Human Rights Committee states that interference by states can only take place on the basis of law which itself specify in detail the precise circumstances in which interference may be permitted.

• The 2011 Joint Declaration on the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Internet adopted by the four international special rapporteurs on freedom of expression representing the Americas, Europe, Africa and the United Nations (UN) emphasizes that standards of liability in cases relating to the internet must take into account the overall public interest in protecting both the expression and the forum in which it is made, (i.e. the need to preserver the “public square” aspect of the Internet).

• From a comparative perspective, the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention (2001) provides basic procedural safeguards and guidance on how to draft cybercrime legislation in accordance with human rights standards.

In the light of these standards, ARTICLE 19 and Digital Rights Foundation remain concerned that the Draft Law violates international standards for several reasons:

• Lack of clear definitions: a number of definitions in the Draft Law are unclear, notably the definition of ‘content data’, which partially reproduces the definition of ‘computer data’ as stipulated in the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime (2001). This is confusing as computer data and content data are separate concepts. In other instances, the draft law fails to define important terms such as ‘information systems’ or ‘programme or data’. The lack of clear definitions in the draft law makes it more open to abuse and likely to catch innocuous behaviour, such as accessing a website in breach of its terms of service. By the same token, it endangers the right to freedom of expression. We recommend that ‘content data’ is replaced by ‘computer data’ in the Draft Law and refer to the Cybercrime Convention for a definition of ‘computer systems’.

• Lack of public interest defence for hacking-type of offences: The Draft Law criminalises unauthorised access to information systems, programmes or data. While the Draft Law is presumably aimed at criminalising ‘hacking’, it fails to provide a public interest defence when this type of conduct takes place for legitimate purposes, such investigative journalism or research.

• Overly broad cyber-terrorism offence: Section 7 (a) and (b) fails to make an explicit reference to "violence" as part of the offence of cyber-terrorism. Cyber-terrorism should be more clearly linked to the risk of harm or injury in the real world, and in particular harm against the welfare of individuals. It should not be equated with even moderate disruption of public services or damage to property. It is not clear that sections 7 (1) (b) (i) and (ii) would meet that threshold if read independently from Section 7 (1) (b) (vi).

• Criminalisation of “defamation against women”: Although the attempts to offer special protection to women (e.g. through prohibitions on threatening sexual acts) are laudable, we find the provisions of Section 13 of the Draft Law problematic. Section 13 criminalises “defamation against women” and other vaguely phrased offences, such as “distorting the face of a woman”. We recall that, in its General Comment 34, the UN Human Rights Committee stated that states parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases. Also, the provisions of Section 13 fail to meet the three part test, as they are not formulated with sufficient precision to enable individuals to regulate their conduct in accordance with the law. We therefore recommend that Section 13 be revised.

• Lack of procedural safeguards against surveillance activities carried out by intelligence agencies: although efforts have been made to provide effective procedural safeguards against unchecked surveillance by law enforcement agencies (e.g. section 30), the same is not true of intelligence services, which remain subject to the provisions of the Pakistan Telecommunications (Re-Organisation) Act 1996. This is a serious concern as this means that the Pakistani intelligence services effectively have carte blanche to carry out mass surveillance without meaningful oversight (see ARTICLE 19’s analysis of the Pakistan Telecommunications (re-Organisation) Act). In our view, if the Draft Law were to be adopted in its current form, it would be in breach of the right to freedom of expression and privacy under international law.

We call on Pakistani legislators to protect the rights to freedom of expression and privacy in accordance with Pakistan’s obligations under international and review the Draft Law in line with the above recommendations.


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Digital Rights Foundation is a research based advocacy organisation based in Pakistan focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on ground and online.  We firmly believe that freedom of speech and open access to online content is critically important for the development of socio-economy of the country.


Join the talk on Twitter @digitalrightspk or like us on Facebook!

February 05, 2014 - Comments Off on Jasoosi Band Karo – "Stop Spying On Us"

Jasoosi Band Karo – "Stop Spying On Us"

Under the flagship of international "The Day We Fight Back" 2014 campaign, Digital Rights Foundation started a similar campaign in Pakistan to fight against mass surveillance and censorship.
jasoosi band karo
Titled "Jasoosi Band Karo" in Urdu (Pakistan's national language), the campaign asked the common Pakistani Internet user to come forward and speak against the draconian State tactics of mass surveillance and targeted censorship.
The campaign is an ongoing effort by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan along with various other civil society organizations and tech companies of Pakistan. International partner Electronic Frontier Foundation have endorsed this effort by DRF against the mass surveillance tools and systems employed by the Government of Pakistan.
"Jasoosi Band Karo" asks a common citizen to stand up for the basic human right of free and open society and fight against these draconian measures of mass surveillance and censorship.
Campaign site link: jasoosibandkaro

December 09, 2013 - Comments Off on DRF Research Report: Net Privacy in South Asia

DRF Research Report: Net Privacy in South Asia

In May 2013, 29 year old Edward Snowden, former CIA employee and technical contractor to the NSA, disclosed thousands of top-secret documents to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. These documents carried sensitive information about United States’ Internet surveillance programs such as PRISM, XKeyscore, Tempora, along with details of the interception of U.S. and European telephone metadata. In the U.S. political history, it is perhaps the most significant political leak since Daniel Ellsberg’s “Pentagon Papers” in 1971.

Pakistan – digital dictatorship in the guise of a democracy:

Not surprisingly during the same month, here in Pakistan, the government was found to be using FinFisher – one of the most sophisticated surveillance software suite available in the commercial market. The data shown in Citizen Lab’s analysis “For the eyes only” reported that Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL) owns the network where FinFisher server was found in the country. Gamma International UK’s FinFisher suite is an IT intrusion and remote monitoring system whose principal market is state-operated surveillance. Read more

November 25, 2013 - Comments Off on First Case of Selective / Targeted Online Censorship: Pakistani Government Successfully Blocks Specific Links

First Case of Selective / Targeted Online Censorship: Pakistani Government Successfully Blocks Specific Links


Lahore, November 25, 2013:  In an unprecedented event, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) issued a directive to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block Internet Movies Database (IMDb) on November 19 this year. After an outcry by Pakistani social media community, PTA albeit sent a new order to reverse the block on IMDb only after two days.

In a new turn of events, today users from across Pakistan faced issue while accessing a particular movie title on IMDb. While IMDb remains open, the page for movie "The Line of Freedom" remains inaccessible. "The Line of Freedom" is a short baloch film. It should be noted here that time and again state has used all sorts of means to curb the dissidents' views and expressions especially from the province of Baluchistan.

On further investigation, it has come out apparent that almost all the possible links that lead to this movie are blocked on Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd. We did a small survey on twitter where people from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta, and Pindi confirmed that the URL to the film is blocked on Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd where as the rest of the IMDb website is working fine. Same is true in the case of Vimeo.

This ensures the previous claim of Pakistani government reportedly working on a censorship software program that would be able to block specific pages rather than complete websites as in the case of YouTube. However, even after today's show of selected censorship, YouTube remains inaccessible in the country. Minister of State, Anusha Rehman had previously maintained that as soon as filters will be in place, YouTube will be reopened. However, that is not the case.

Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemns government's move towards selective blocking. This selective blocking of IMDb confirms civil society's concerns that Pakistani government would use such means on its own will without any accountability. No criteria, due process of blocking any website/web page have been shared with public.

DRF and the civil society at large demands government makes it's process transparent, accountable and halt trampling on citizens' right to access to information.


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Digital Rights Foundation is a research based advocacy organisation based in Pakistan focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on ground and online.  We firmly believe that freedom of speech and open access to online content is critically important for the development of socio-economy of the country.


Join the talk on Twitter @digitalrightspk or like us on Facebook!

September 22, 2013 - Comments Off on Call for Participation: Digital Security Workshop in Lahore

Call for Participation: Digital Security Workshop in Lahore


Digital Rights Foundation is pleased to announce a day long digital security training being organized in partnership with Shirkat Gah and Bolobhi. Journalists, bloggers, writers, human rights defenders and students in Lahore are invited to apply for this workshop. The training sessions will be conducted on Thursday, September 26, 2013.

This workshop aims at equipping the participants with the skills and techniques necessary for staying safe online. One of the purposes of this training is to enable the participants carry out similar workshops within their organizations and share the experience gained through their networks.

If you meet the eligibility criteria and would like to participate in this training, please submit a statement of interest along with a brief bio outlining your work to In the statement of purpose, demonstrate your interest by clarifying how the experience gained through this training program will help you in pursuing your goals personally and professionally. You may also indicate how this program relates to your future aspirations regarding digital security.

Further information regarding the event will be shared with the selected participants. The applicants must send their applications by September 24th, 2013. Late submissions will not be considered.

June 11, 2013 - Comments Off on Pakistan: Civil Society Condemns NSA Surveillance & Data Collection

Pakistan: Civil Society Condemns NSA Surveillance & Data Collection

We the undersigned strongly condemn the collection and surveillance of Pakistani citizens’ online communications and activities by the Government of the United States of America under its National Security Agency’s (NSA) Prism Programme. Reports about the programme reveal that the NSA has been involved in large scale surveillance of citizens – both at home and abroad. In terms of data gathering from other countries, Pakistan ranks second on the list of countries from where the most amount of digital data has been collected, following only Iran.

 In the past years, the Government of Pakistan has cooperated extensively with the US Government on many counts – from joint operations to alleged information sharing. However, the recent leaks reveal that this is no targeted surveillance but blanket surveillance of citizens at the whims of the US security agency.

NSA’s mass surveillance cannot be justified under national security. The Prism programme has violated the fundamental rights of citizens in Pakistan and abroad.

We call upon the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Information and Technology to demand full disclosure from the US Government over this issue and protect our constitutional rights of privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of speech. The State of Pakistan must respond to this breach of rights immediately and demand an end to blanket surveillance.

[If you want to sign the statement please leave your or your organization's name in the comment section]


Bolo Bhi

Digital Rights Foundation 

Institue for Research, Advocacy & Development [ IRADA ]