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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.

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

Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#MisogynyinPkCourts #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

May 01, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF and Girls@Dhabas Condemn the Cyber Harassment of Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah

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

Zara zor se Bolo: Azadi!

We, the Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas, strongly condemn the cyber-harassment, abuse and intimidation that well-known professors and activists of Pakistan Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu have been subjected to over the past four months.

Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi poet and a professor of philosophy at Jamshoro University, while Arfana Mallah is a professor of chemistry at Jamshoro University and the head of its teachers’ union. Both are the leading lights behind the Khanabadosh Writers Cafe in Hyderabad, which has helped to revive cultural life in the city along progressive lines. As longstanding members of the Women Action Forum, both Professor Amar Sindhu and Professor Arfana Mallah have ceaselessly struggled for gender, human rights, and political justice in Sindh and the country at large.

While the paths of feminists are never easy in a deeply patriarchal context, the threats and intimidation tactics against them have amplified in the past few months and have frighteningly evolved into concerted efforts to slander and undermine their individual credibility in online and offline spaces. The abuse that they have suffered has included:

  • threats of acid attack, burning, and other forms of physical violence
  • propaganda that they are “anti-national” and an “agent”
  • character assassination on social media with repeated declarations that they are “randi”, “be ghairat”, “bad kirdar” and “fahash”
  • professional maligning through false claims that they are incompetent teachers and shirking their teaching responsibilities
  • shaming them because of the sari as an occasional choice of dress
  • shaming them as being “over-emotional” and “pseudo”
  • demeaning them through classic, misogynist slurs used against courageous and gutsy feminists: that they are “unhappy, single women” who are “half-crazy”

In light of Mashal Khan’s chilling murder, the present pressure cooker conditions engulfing Amar and Arfana are alarming and deserve immediate attention. The Jamshoro campus represents a volatile situation that has escalated, and isolated the two activists. We are concerned that the intense, targeted social media invective against them is designed to prepare groundwork for actual physical assault at the remotest opportunity.

What is even more horrific and noteworthy about the whole situation is that the slander campaign against them is being led by so-called progressive men, who pride themselves on being intellectuals, academics, human rights defenders, nationalists and secular leftists. Have the harassers been paid to engage in this intimidation campaign, or are they just revealing the misogyny and toxic masculinity that often lies beneath the progressive veneer? Many of these bro-gressives hide behind their progressive facade, while unleashing the worst forms of misogyny against women who speak up. On some occasions, Amar Sindhu has received vitriolic, abusive lashing on social media simply for stating her opinion on current political trends in Sindh.

If a man expresses a political opinion, it is considered his opinion and nothing more. If a woman expresses a political opinion e.g. on PTI as happened to be the case, she faces a social media lynch mob. The intention is to put the woman in her place, silence her political speech, and marginalize her from public discourse. We wish to note here that in 2004, Amar Sindhu and three other women were accused of blasphemy in a case of systematic victimization by the then secretary of the Sindhi Adabi Board. They were cleared eventually through an independent investigation - the first of its kind that was undertaken in Sindh. Shockingly, Amar Sindhu also suffered bullet injuries in 2010 when she was participating in the teachers’ movement against the VC of Sindh University ( For their principled stance, both Dr. Arfana and Dr. Amar were fired along with five other faculty members, but eventually restored after much struggle.

It is when women dare to leave the domestic spaces and roles that patriarchal society has chosen for them, and participate as equal human beings in the social, institutional, and political life of society that the most amount of violence is directed at them. Instead of valuing women’s voices and roles in social and institutional settings, progressive men and regressive men work together - often with the support of other patriarchal women - to ensure that women’s tongues are silenced, their rights denied, they are bullied with written and legal threats, and their professional and social status decimated.

We would thus like to situate Amar and Arfana’s case in the larger context of harassment against women, particularly in academia and activist circles in Pakistan where there has recently been an increased backlash against women who speak up. Whether it is the case of misogynists acting against the Digital Rights Foundation, the case of harassment in public universities like Karachi University, or cases in private universities like LUMS or Habib, the repercussions of dissent and calling out abusive men is unflinching retaliation. This is met with outright support, victim-shaming, apologetic attitude, conditionalities for solidarity, bystander behaviour, avoidance, or silence by an even larger community of men who consider themselves progressive.

 We find such hypocrisy pathetic and deeply disturbing: the men who might praise Faiz and recite “bol” shudder in their shoes when courageous women - after systematic trauma - find the strength to actually speak.

We, in Karachi and Lahore and Islamabad, are inspired by the work and warmth of these two powerful feminists, academics and activists. We stand in firm solidarity with them, we openly declare how much we love and adore them, and how grateful we are for their true patriotism. Against worsening odds, it is the sustained struggle of veteran feminists in reclaiming public, political and institutional spaces that enables us younger feminists to do our work in the world. Together, we strive for and realize a better Pakistan.

Towards this goal, we demand civil society members of Sindh to call out so-called progressive men who engage in maligning, abusing, and victmizing Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu, and we urge institutions all over Pakistan to strengthen and safeguard the rights of women.

April 23, 2017 - Comments Off on France’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

France’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

On April 19th, 2017, a worldwide consortium of NGOs filed legal submissions against the "Right to be Forgotten" ruling by France's data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”). "Right to be Forgotten" permits individuals or the government to order data repositories and Internet service providers to destroy any and all parts of an individual's digital trail.

Although justified as necessary for the protection of minors and to allow victims of cyber harassment to remove content posted about them online, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have come under fire for being vaguely defined. In particular, CNIL's ruling crossing its own jurisdiction--applying not only to Google France but the search engine's worldwide database of links and across all its services. In an ironic twist, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have also been invoked to order Google to remove news about Right to be Forgotten laws. This gives a glimpse into how this law facilitates censorship, and why the lack of limits on its applicability put Internet users around the world at risk.

"Right to be Forgotten" deals a severe blow to the Right to Information: you cannot demand information that no longer exists. Besides gagging free speech, it also leaves with the problem of transparency. The Internet plays a vital role in strengthening democracies and increasing public officials' transparency & accountability to their own people; how will this be impacted when politicians and other public officials can demand removal of any content that shows them in a negative light? What is the legal status of political criticism, whistleblowing, and investigative journalism--permitted unless the person under investigation decides otherwise? The democratic process depends upon the ability of people to make an informed choice which is not possible without unfettered access to information.

Another important aspect to consider is the potential impact on legal proceedings in criminal cases: as digital evidence becomes increasingly accepted in court, how will human rights violators be charged when they can erase all evidence of their crimes at the click of a button?

"Right to Be Forgotten" laws as currently defined do not offer sufficient protection against such abuse, and CNIL sets a troubling precedent of applying domestic laws globally. Following this, it is entirely possible for governments to impose censorship across borders. Digital Rights Foundation is committed to fighting for an individual's autonomy over their digital lives, balanced with the best interests of digital communities as a whole. The Internet does not fall under the sole authority of any individual, organization, or country. The ability to shape how and what information appears on it is an immense power. Consolidating it into the hands of a sole entity, particularly without vital safeguards against misuse, is a threat to all.


April 19, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation and 17 other expert non-governmental organisations from across the world have filed legal submissions before France’s highest court, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), raising serious concerns about a ruling of France’s data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”), on the “right to be forgotten".

In 2014, CNIL ordered Google to remove 21 links from the results of an internet search on the name of a French citizen who claims a “right to be forgotten.”  Google initially removed the links from its French search site ( and other European search sites (such as, but CNIL demanded it go further.  Google then blocked the links from results returned to European users, even when using Google’s non-European sites, including CNIL however demands that when it orders content to be “forgotten” from search results, this decision must be given effect worldwide, meaning that the results must be made unavailable to all users internationally, regardless of where they are accessing internet search engines.  CNIL has also imposed a huge fine on Google, of €100,000.

The 18 NGOs who have filed legal submissions with the Council of State have grave concerns about CNIL’s approach and its implications for human rights worldwide.  They all specialise in the defence of human rights, the protection of online freedom of expression, and in increasing access to information technology around the world.  The NGOs, and the many people across the world whose rights they protect, rely on freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas and information online in order to carry out their important work in protecting human rights internationally. CNIL has unilaterally imposed draconian restrictions on free expression upon all organisations and individuals who use the internet around the world, even imposing a “right to be forgotten” upon countries which do not recognise this principle.  The CNIL ruling causes particularly serious damage to human rights protection in the developing world.

The legal submissions were drafted by freedom of expression experts Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jude Bunting, barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, London, and avocat Thomas Haas, Paris, who acts for the NGOs and filed the submissions with the Council of State.  The NGOs were also assisted by Jennifer Robinson, a pupil barrister with expertise in media law.  A press release from the 18 NGOs is available here.

The importance of the CNIL ruling in 2014, and of the upcoming appeal before the Council of State, has been highlighted by Associate Tenant Nani Jansen Reventlow, an expert on freedom of expression who is currently a Fellow at the Berkman Centre, Harvard University.  She has recently written about the case in the Washington Post: ‘A French court case against Google could threaten global speech rights’ (available here) and for the Council on Foreign Relations Net Politics blog: 'The French court case that threatens to bring the "Right to be Forgotten" everywhere' (available here).

The decision of the Council of State on Google’s appeal is expected later this year.

May 17, 2016 - Comments Off on Senators Commit to Stopping The Cyber Crime Bill

Senators Commit to Stopping The Cyber Crime Bill

L-R: Farieha Aziz (Bolo Bhi), Senator Farhatullah Barbar (PPP), Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation)

L-R: Farieha Aziz (Bolo Bhi), Senator Farhatullah Babar (PPP), Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation)

ISLAMABAD: Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi held a consultation today on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, on the day that it was set to be discussed by the Pakistani Senate, in Islamabad.

Legislation that protects citizens from cybercrime and terrorism is needed more than ever, provided that a fair and progressive balance is struck between security and liberty. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill does not meet that balance - rather than protect the rights of Pakistani citizens as its authors and supporters claim, its passage will in effect criminalise freedom of expression, and put the privacy of Pakistani citizens at risk.

The aim of the consultation was to provide Senators, parliamentarians, members of civil society organisations and the media with the context of the process behind the PECB, and to discuss the problematic provisions and amendments that have been suggested in the most recent versions. Senators and Members of the National Assembly gave their thoughts on the process, and expressed their concerns and opinions on how the Senate would treat the PECB when it would be debated in the Senate. Senators Farhatullah Babar (Khyber Pakhtunwa-PPP), Shahi Syed (KP-ANP), Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Information, and Rubina Khalid (KP-PPP), also a member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT, participated in the discussions on the PECB, as did other lawmakers.

Senator Farhatullah Babar reiterated that the PECB should be subject to a true public hearing, to allow for experts in IT and law to discuss and examine the Bill. Senator Babar also stressed that proper public oversight is necessary, as is a strong balance between security and civil liberties.

L-R: Senator Rubina Khalid (PPP), member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT; Senator Shahi Syed (ANP), Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on IT

L-R: Senator Rubina Khalid (PPP), member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT; Senator Shahi Syed (ANP), Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on IT

Senator Rubina Khalid expressed the concern that the language of the PECB as it currently exists would be used for not just political victimisation, but religious victimisation. Senator Khalid also recounted how the PML-N government had taken advantage of the National Assembly walkout by the PPP in order to push through the PECB. Senators Khalid and Babar also stressed that the PPP has a clear stance that they will not pass the Bill in its current form, and that the Bill was in such a state that it did not deserve to be amended, but to be rebuilt from the ground up, with proper input from multi-stakeholders.

Senator Shahi Syed said that the Senate would not pass the PECB in its current form, and that a public hearing on the Bill would be organised, to allow the public to take part in the process.

MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi (MQM)

MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi (MQM)

Raza Ali Abdi (MQM) echoed these sentiments, saying that all efforts to push for change in the National Assembly by MQM have been exhausted, and now the responsibility lies with the Senate to scrap the PECB and start over.

All lawmakers present at the consultation agreed that rather than one faulty bill like the PECB, separate coherent and thought-out bills are required that focus on cybersecurity, cybercrime and cyberterrorism independently. It was also agreed upon that the development and implementation of strong privacy protection mechanisms – to protect Pakistani citizens, their privacy and freedom of expression – was urgently required. Iqbal Khattak, a journalist and member of Reporters San Frontieres (Reporters With Borders) echoed this statement, criticising the current lack of legal protections of legal protections regarding personal data, if said data is handed over to the authorities for any reason.

Senator Farhatullah Barbar reading the latest legal analysis of the PECB, prepared by DRF, Privacy International and Article 19 DRF

Senator Farhatullah Babar reading the latest legal analysis of the PECB, prepared by DRF, Privacy International and Article 19 DRF

Saroop Ijaz of Human Rights Watch agreed, making the important point that to date the PECB has been framed in the context of security – when we look at the Bill, he said, its failings regarding privacy and human rights must be flagged and urgently discussed.

Participants agreed that while comprehensive and well-researched cybercrime legislation is required, the PECB is not that legislation, not as it currently exists. The Bill needs to be redrafted from scratch, subject to a public hearing, and then legislation that truly reflects the concerns and input of multiple civil society stakeholders can be crafted that protects the citizens of Pakistan, but not at the cost of their privacy and freedom of expression. Digital Rights Foundation hopes that the Senate fulfils the commitments that they had made today, to ensure that any future cyber crime legislation reflects these concerns, and will working with Senators to ensure that this is the case.


February 04, 2016 - Comments Off on ‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

Public bodies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are negligent in complying with the provincial Right to Information laws.

Lahore, February 4th, 2016: Digital Rights Foundation and the Coalition of Right to Information today released their 4th report “The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies” which analyses the official websites of public bodies from the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from July 2015 to December 2015 in order to evaluate their compliance with Right to Information laws and provide constructive feedback to support these public bodies in increasing pre-emptive sharing of information with the public.

This report is the third in a series aimed at assessing the proactive disclosure of information by public bodies. It is a joint-effort initiated by the Coalition of Right to Information (CRTI) and Digital Rights Foundation, with a broader aim to measure how public bodies have been using the web. It is crucial for government bodies to use their web presence effectively and responsibly in order to promote good governance and reduce corruption. This research used the RTI laws of both provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - to evaluate the extent to which the laws are being followed.

The report found that while there have been small improvements in how these websites provide information, there has been a general reluctance in complying with laws that pertain specifically to

  • sharing the categories of information held by public bodies
  • a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body
  • information about particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by the public bodies

“It is important for the public to know what information is being held by each public body,” said Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation. “With the exception of the KPK RTI Commission, none of the websites provide a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body. Due to this, the public has no idea of where to go for their required information. When public body websites do not explain how a person can contact them to request information or even what information is available, this adds to the confusion and creates suspicion in the minds of the public. It is a direct violation of their own RTI laws which can be resolved by simply putting up a couple of web pages.”

Many of the analysed websites show that there is a general misunderstanding about what “Web Accessibility” concerns.

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” — Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.

When the report evaluated public body websites according to W3C standards, it found that there are a number of barriers that prevent interaction and access to people with disabilities. Correctly designed, developed and edited websites will give all users equal access to information and functionality. This is one of the major problems with all public bodies websites.

In previous versions of the report, the research had identified the areas in which these websites were lacking and had presented clear recommendations for improvement. The recent report has found that almost none of the websites acted upon those suggestions therefore, their scores have remained largely unchanged.

Link to the report:


- End -

"Coalition of Right to Information seeks to promote an open information and communications policies at the federal, provincial and district levels across Pakistan. With various initiatives, the coalition of civil society organizations aims to promote citizen awareness and improve dialogue between the citizens and state."

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  and like us on Facebook!


December 10, 2015 - Comments Off on DRF Concludes Successful Second National Conference on The Right To Privacy in The Digital Age

DRF Concludes Successful Second National Conference on The Right To Privacy in The Digital Age

ISLAMABAD, NOVEMBER 27, 2015: Digital Rights Foundation organized its second National conference in collaboration with Privacy International on The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age in Islamabad on November 26th, 2015, with the objective of starting a debate around the lack of laws pertaining to cyberspace, with regard to privacy in particular. The conference featured experts from international rights organisations who delivered sessions and answered questions on the various aspects of privacy rights, as well the use and impact of surveillance technologies.

The conference brought together stakeholders including lawyers, parliamentarians, journalists, civil society, to discuss the different aspects of privacy rights in the context of Pakistan in the 21st Century.

L-R: Matthew Rice (Privacy, Waqqas Mir, Ms. Sherry Rehman, Aftab Alam

L-R: Matthew Rice (Privacy International), Waqqas Mir, Ms. Sherry Rehman, Aftab Alam


Ms. Nighat Dad, rights activist and founder of DRF, welcomed the participants and explained the need for this conference which would work as a means of building the capacity of Pakistani journalists, activists and civil society organizations. The event was aimed towards understanding in depth the concepts around privacy and how mass surveillance violates privacy rights and international treaties. The goal was not only to create a greater awareness of privacy and surveillance issues, but to also provide the knowledge necessary to advocate for stronger data and privacy protection laws.

L-R: Naveed ul Haq, Waqqas Mir, Hassan Bilal Zaidi, Bushra Gohar, Iqbal Khattak

L-R: Naveed ul Haq, Waqqas Mir, Hassan Bilal Zaidi, Ms. Bushra Gohar, Iqbal Khattak

“To get death threats just for voicing my views, is not acceptable,” pointed out the former member of National Assembly Bushra Gohar, who was among the panellists who debated on the importance of striking the right balance between security and freedom. “Online safety is as important as physical safety now,” said Hassan Bilal Zaidi, staff writer for Dawn newspaper. “The security measures in Peshawar continue to haunt us,” said Mr. Iqbal Khattak, Pakistan country representative and monitor for Reporters Without Borders for Freedom. Mr. Khattak pointed towards the need for the government to control the security threats instead of controlling opinions of the individuals.

“We need effective laws that filter out hate,” said the parliamentarian Ms. Sherry Rehman, who serves as a member of the Senate. She also explained that at the same time, as an emerging democracy, we have certain laws that are an example for other countries. Lawyer Mr. Waqqas Mir, who moderated the sessions, was blunt in his view of those civil societies that have accepted the decision of the government to create laws that will block material as seen fit by it. There is a need to resist such curtailing on freedom of expression. “We have the right to privacy,” as per Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan, he explained.

Conference participants took part in rigorous interactive session with panellists and came away with a greater understanding of what is at stake in the struggle to balance security concerns with civil liberties.

October 28, 2015 - Comments Off on Freedom on the Net 2015: Pakistan, The State of Insecurity

Freedom on the Net 2015: Pakistan, The State of Insecurity

The State of Freedom on the Net 2015

The State of Freedom on the Net 2015

Lahore, October 27, 2015: Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report, conducted in 60 countries, examines the civil liberty, freedom and censorship trends in Pakistan over the past year. Scoring “Not Free” for Internet Freedom, 2015 marks the fourth consecutive year that Pakistan joins the host of nations share the same worst score, with policies that curtail freedom and civil liberties.

Extensively and methodically researched by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan in collaboration with Freedom House, the report compiles and analyses actions undertaken by the state to limit internet freedom, to violate user rights as well as the implementation of censorship in Pakistan. The 2015 edition of Freedom on the Net contains some of the following worrying highlights:

  • January 2015: The introduction of drafted cybercrime legislation, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which includes overly broad definitions of criminal activity online, which could negatively impact freedom of expression and the right to privacy
  • March 2015: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif disbands an inter-ministerial committee responsible for censorship of 'objectionable' material, and authorises the government regulator to take oversight
  • The November 2014 arrest of a Christian (a religious minority in Pakistan) by police who had evaded blasphemy charges related to his blog for three years
  • The deaths in August 2014 of two journalists and a network account by unidentified gunmen in their offices in Balochistan
  • The leaking of data from the corporate surveillance firm, Hacking Team, revealing interactions with private sector representatives for Pakistani state security agencies, in regards to surveillance equipment that would work on older mobile phone models, amongst other details
  • The crackdown on unverified mobile SIM cards, and mandatory biometric verification protocols that were set in place, after a December 2014 attack on school that resulted in more than 150 children being killed

The government of Pakistan continues to take ever greater steps to gain further control over the digital spaces that its citizens use, ostensibly to protect them from terrorism and criminals. While it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens, it is also the paramount duty to ensure the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to civil liberties are protected. As the Freedom on the Net report will show, the government is taking further steps to further curtail these rights, to police democratic discourse and stifle dissenting voices that are already threatened offline.

"The government of Pakistan often talks about bringing the nation into the 21st century, and is quick to point to its growing tech industry. But when it blocks websites and moves to clamp down on online discourse, not to mention criminalise ethical hacking, it is choking freedom of expression and the right to privacy back into an earlier, darker age in the nation's history, “ said Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation’s Executive Director. “The use of surveillance tech to monitor and control our access to the internet and to digital services in general,” she continued, “would have a chilling effect on the way that we express ourselves online. Instead of being a safe space, it will be a panopticon, where we are always watched.”

“We are troubled to report that Pakistan's poor internet freedom score failed to improve in 2015. Communications shutdowns, violence, and blasphemy charges related to online content continue to restrict the environment for ordinary internet users. The government has also failed to lift the ongoing ban on YouTube,” said Madeline Earp, Asia Research analyst for Freedom on The Net.

Freedom on the Net and the research of Freedom House seek to address the failings of the state in protecting the rights of citizens, and by compiling and analysing evidence that activists and concerned citizens can use to push for greater democracy online as well as offline.

To view the country report on Pakistan in its entirety, please click here.

August 10, 2015 - Comments Off on ‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab government departments fail to share information with citizens via web portals; Punjab Information Department does not have even a web site: Report

Lahore, August 10, 2015:

The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies report reaffirms earlier findings that reveal that government departments in the provinces of K-P and Punjab have failed to comply with their own right to information laws. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies are required to proactively disclose categories of information as mentioned in Sections 4 and 5 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, respectively.

In clear violation of Section 4 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, almost all of the government departments surveyed failed to provide information about particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by the public bodies involved. This information is glaringly absent from official Punjab government websites, and clearly suggests that these bodies do not want to be transparent and accountable to citizens. This furthers the narrative of earlier reports that even though it is a positive effort to legislate RTI laws meeting international standards, citizens will only benefit when the respective provincial commissions play their due role in implementing those laws.

Provincial government departments have begun to start sharing information regarding provincial budgets. However, these departments have failed to provide details regarding proposed expenditure goals, as well as actual spending that has taken place. Nor has any information been provided concerning remunerations, salaries, benefits, and any other such payments that respective departments provide to employed staff or beneficiaries.

While K-P provincial departments have begun to share information concerning Public Information Officers, under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's right to information laws, Punjab's provincial government bodies have as yet failed to provide any information about Punjab's own designated Public Information Officer. This reluctance to provide information is noteworthy, considering that the website of the Punjab Information Commission contains a list of Public Information Officers as designated by government departments. The Commission itself, however, has not provided any information about Punjab Public Information Officers outside of this list, however.

The report does recognise that provincial governments have adopted the latest web standards and many of them actively maintain their web presence. It in light of this, therefore, that while positive steps are reaffirmed by the report, the lack of tangible reforms  being adopted to implement key sections of the respective laws of the provinces, including the details of expenditures, becomes more glaring and significant.

The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies report analysed 17 departments of the Punjab government and 13 departments of K-P, ranking the degree of sharing and openness adopted by the two provincial governments on a scale of zero-10, where zero equates to “doesn’t meet the provision”, and 10 equates to “completely follows the provision”.

This report is a joint-effort initiated by the Coalition of Right to Information (CRTI) and Digital Rights Foundation, with a broader aim to measure how public bodies have been using the web. With rapid technological advancement, and greater reliance on technology for information, it has become crucial for government bodies to start using their web presence more effectively in order to promote good governance and reduce corruption. This research looked at whether government departments are keeping properly maintained websites and promoting citizen feedback. The primary purpose of these reports, however, is to measure against respective RTI laws.

Current research reiterates the critical situation concerning the lack of public disclosure of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by the public bodies of both provinces. While Coalition Of Right to Information and Digital Rights Foundation both appreciate efforts undertaken by the elected governments of Punjab and KP-K, in having enacted right to information laws, it is disappointing to see the unwillingness of public bodies to comply with those same regulations.

Much needs to be done by the Information Commissions of  K-P and Punjab to ensure that public bodies comply with the right to information laws and make information available for public consumption.

Link to the report: Proactive Disclosure Report 


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“Coalition of Right to Information seeks to promote an open information and communications policies at the federal, provincial and district levels across Pakistan. With various initiatives, the coalition of civil society organizations aims to promote citizen awareness and improve dialogue between the citizens and state.” 

Digital Rights Foundation is a research based advocacy organization 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.

June 23, 2015 - Comments Off on Press Release: British intelligence agency hacked into Pakistan Internet Exchange

Press Release: British intelligence agency hacked into Pakistan Internet Exchange

Digital Rights Foundation is seriously concerned by revelations of the infiltration of Pakistan's Internet Exchange by Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency. We urge the government of Pakistan to take action to protect the right to privacy of Pakistani citizens, and to condemn the actions of GCHQ.

From documentation published by The Intercept, it was revealed that Britain's intelligence agency GCHQ as a result of its Computer Network Exploitation (hacking) operations had gained presence on the Pakistan Internet Exchange prior to 2008. This gave GCHQ according to the document published “access to almost any user of the internet inside Pakistan” and the ability “to re-route selected traffic across international links towards GCHQ's passive collection systems.”

This hacking operation, at a scale never previously seen before from the British intelligence agency, seriously undermines the right to privacy of all users of the internet in Pakistan. By targeting a key point in Pakistan's communications infrastructure, GCHQ have put at risk the security and integrity of a significant portion of Pakistan's communications infrastructure.

The Pakistan Internet Exchange is a core part of the communications infrastructure in Pakistan. It is a common point of transfer for a significant portion of Pakistanis' communications. This makes the intrusion all the more concerning. Any vulnerability that allows British intelligence to access the exchange is also available to any other malicious actor.

The operation from GCHQ targeted Cisco routers. Cisco routers have previously been caught up in intelligence agencies cross-border spy games. It was revealed that America's National Security Agency had been intercepting Cisco routers and installing firmware onto them before they were delivered to customers. Steps should be taken immediately by Cisco to fix any vulnerabilities discovered in their routers to protect their customers right to privacy.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has been involved in the mass surveillance programmes from intelligence agencies of a “friendly” nation. Earlier this year it was reported that the NSA had determined that Al-Jazeera's Islamabad bureau chief was a person of interest, via metadata collected from 55 million Pakistani mobile phone records, and entered in SKYNET, a computer programme designed to analyse metadata.

It is unclear whether the Pakistan government knew of these operations. The Pakistan government has an obligation to protect Pakistanis right to privacy and this level of intrusion onto critical national infrastructure undermines that obligation. It is of paramount importance that the government does all it can to account for this intrusion and to take meaningful steps to ensure the right to privacy in Pakistan and prevent it from being brazenly interfered with by foreign intelligence agencies.


Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation:

"The GCHQ operation highlights the growing mission creep on the part of intelligence agencies and other state actors, who frequently request more sweeping surveillance powers and authority, and who bristle at any attempts to enforce effective oversight upon them. This hacking not only does not protect ordinary people, but leaves them more vulnerable to malicious actors that can exploit the same vulnerabilities that GCHQ has infiltrated. ”

When ostensibly democratic nations carry out such draconian and unethical actions against the citizens of nations they are 'allies' of, it sets a troubling precedent. The government of Pakistan could point to the actions of the US or the UK as justification for passing greater surveillance measures against its own people."


Further sources:

Original story here:

Document can be found here:

National Security Agency interdiction of Cisco routers:

Al-Jazeera's Bureau Chief designated as “member of Al Qaeda” and the SKYNET programme