All Posts in Press Releases

April 17, 2020 - Comments Off on Joint statement on safety of journalists and access to information during the COVID-19 crisis

Joint statement on safety of journalists and access to information during the COVID-19 crisis

In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undersigned chairs and members of the Groups of Friends on the Safety/Protection of Journalists are calling on all states to protect journalists’ and media workers’ safety, safeguard a free and independent media and ensure unhindered access to information, both online and offline.

Free, independent and pluralistic media play an indispensable role in informing the public during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Everyone has the right to comprehensible, accessible, timely and reliable information concerning the nature and level of the threat COVID-19 poses to their health, allowing them to follow evidence-based guidance on how to stay safe.

Public health needs public trust. Trust is crucial to achieving adequate support for and compliance by the general public with efforts by governments to help curb the spread of the virus.

Trust cannot be achieved without transparency and accountability provided and guaranteed by a free media. Conversely, free and independent media has an important role in pushing back against disinformation by providing access to accurate, fact-based and verified information. In this context, it is essential that governments and private entities address disinformation, foremost, by providing reliable information themselves.

We see with great concern an increase in restricting measures taken by States that disproportionately limit the right to freedom of expression and impede journalists and media workers from reporting on the COVID-19 crisis. Arrests, persecution and harassment against journalists and media workers, especially women, as well as smear campaigns to discredit their work and the expulsion of foreign journalists due to their COVID-19 coverage or the criminalisation of alleged misinformation, online and offline, may constitute human rights violations. There should be no place for impunity in democratic societies.

Internet access is essential to ensuring that information reaches those affected by the virus. Governments should end any internet shutdowns, ensure the broadest possible access to internet services, and take steps to bridge digital divides, including the gender gap.

Furthermore, journalists and media workers are subjected to significant physical and psychological risk by being at the frontline reporting on the COVID-19 crisis. They are working under extremely challenging conditions, partly because of lack of sanitary precautions and training, but also because of psychological stress linked to the rapidly evolving situation. Declarations of state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a basis to limit freedom of expression and constrain the working environment of journalists and media workers. It is crucial for societies and the international community as a whole that governments preserve a free, safe and enabling environment for journalists and media workers and ensure that they can report on COVID-19 and inform about responses and consequences without undue interference.

We welcome a range of initiatives aimed at supporting journalists’ and media workers’ safety in the light of COVID-19 undertaken by international organisations, such as UNESCO and civil society, media associations as well as social media companies. Projects to strengthen media in developing countries in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, such as those undertaken by the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication, are particularly welcome.

We also welcome the joint statement of 19 March published by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as well as the press release and statements made by Moez Chakchouk, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, published on 27 March.

We agree with their call that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists at a moment of public health emergency and we remain fully committed to protecting media freedom and safety of journalists at this critical time.

Signed by Austria, France, Greece, Lithuania and Sweden as the chairs and co-chairs, respectively, of the Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists in New York, Geneva, Vienna (OSCE) and Paris

Annex:

(List of co-signatories, members in any of the four Groups of Friends on the Safety of Journalists at UNESCO in Paris, the United Nations in New York and Geneva and the OSCE in Vienna, in alphabetical order)

Albania                                                                       Lebanon
Argentina                                                                   Lithuania
Australia                                                                     Luxembourg
Austria                                                                        Montenegro
Brazil                                                                           Morocco
Bulgaria                                                                      The Netherlands
Canada                                                                        Nigeria
Cape                                                                            Norway
Verde                                                                           Paraguay
Chile                                                                             Poland
Costa                                                                            Qatar
Rica                                                                               Republic of Korea
Denmark                                                                      Senegal
Estonia                                                                          Slovenia
Finland                                                                          Sweden
France                                                                           Switzerland
Germany                                                                       Tunisia
Ghana                                                                            United Kingdom
Greece                                                                           United States
Japan                                                                              Uruguay
Kenya
Kuwait
Latvia

 

March 19, 2020 - Comments Off on Launch of reporting portal to combat online child sexual abuse material in Pakistan

Launch of reporting portal to combat online child sexual abuse material in Pakistan

Soon

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) in collaboration with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children are launching a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan.

The IWF is the UK-based charity responsible for finding and removing online child sexual abuse material. The new portal will allow people in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages – English, Urdu, and Pashto. The reports will then be assessed by trained IWF analysts in the UK. The portal will be the 33rd portal set up around the world to fight the spread of online child sexual abuse material.

The launch had been due to take place in Pakistan and would have been attended by representatives from the British High Commission in Pakistan, as well as representatives from the IWF. However, following the cancellation of flights and public gatherings because of the virus, it was decided a “virtual” launch would be the best solution.

The IWF’s Chief Executive Susie Hargreaves said: “We have decided that, despite the strain that the current pandemic is putting on business, resources and life in general, it is still important to give global citizens a reporting options for child sexual abuse material online and not to delay.

“Therefore, we have opted to proceed with the launch, which shall be completely virtual. The in-person launch event was postponed, but we may hold a virtual meeting of delegates from Pakistan via Zoom instead.”

The IWF’s International Development Manager Jenny Thornton had been preparing to travel to Islamabad to attend the launch. She said that, despite the travel bans, there must be no delaying what could be a “significant” move for children’s online safety.

Ms Thornton said: “Pakistan is the fifth biggest country in the world by population, and 35% of their people are children.

“As a country, it has the world’s second highest number of children who are not in school, and that is estimated at 22.8 million children under 16 not going to school. We are talking about a lot of kids here, so the potential for this portal to keep more children safe online around the world is significant.”

Nighat Dad, Executive Direct of DRF said: "In Pakistan, child sexual abuse was considered as a taboo for far too long, making any serious and concerted action against it very difficult.

“However in the last five years, high profile cases have generated public outrage and support for action against these issues.

“Online Child Sexual Abuse currently is criminalised under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, through the offence of child pornography, however the country currently lacks the infrastructure to proactively takedown material relating to Online Child Sexual Abuse.

“This portal seeks to bridge that gap by creating a cross-platform, technological solution for reporting material within Pakistan to protect survivors of sexual abuse from getting re-traumatised and help make the internet safer for children and young adults."

The new portal is funded by the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children. It can be found at https://report.iwf.org.uk/pk

For more information log on: https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/.

#EndOnlineChildAbuse

For more information contact:

Shmyla Khan

Project Manager, shmyla@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

March 5, 2020 - Comments Off on WEF and DRF conducted the Mobilizing and Inspiring Action with Technology 2020

WEF and DRF conducted the Mobilizing and Inspiring Action with Technology 2020

Digital Rights Foundation and the World Economic Forum in collaboration with institutional partners hosted a first of its kind event in Kathmandu from February 19-21, 2020. This event brought together participants from across South Asia and the rest of the world to discuss the implications of digital and emerging technologies for organizations promoting advocacy and mobilizing people-powered action in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, topics like digital rights, civic tech, transparency and governance also came under debate.

This event aimed to facilitate shared learning across regional contexts on how increasingly digitized world is moving towards shifting behaviours, creating new opportunities and the deepening challenges for the communities and stakeholders that advocates work with. The participants had an opportunity to discuss the challenges for strategic cross-sector alliances within the development sector. The Fourth Industrial Revolution was widely discussed, with attendees discussing the changes and the future threat it brings with it.

The panels ranged from focusing on Advocacy in Context: Regional Perspectives on Technology, Advocacy and People-powered movement which took a look at relevant tools and strategies that advocates are employing across different regional contexts in an increasing digital world. Additionally Nighat Dad moderated a panel titled,  Accelerating Digital Rights Conversations Beyond South Asia and Beyond, which focused on the current state of digital rights in South Asia and opportunities to deepen and accelerate the conversation across the region and within a global context.

Nighat Dad, Executive Director of DRF noted that, ‘The fourth industrial revolution brings with it various opportunities, however, it also poses different threats to different communities especially in the context of the Global South. It is important to bring digital rights groups from South Asia together to discuss the dynamics and landscapes around transparency, digital rights and advocacy so that it becomes a strong front like the Global North. Through this workshop, we were able to bring together different actors from South Asia and discuss in detail how collaborations within the community are important.’

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

Contact Person:

Nighat Dad 

nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk 

March 1, 2020 - Comments Off on NO CONSULTATION WITHOUT WITHDRAWAL OF CABINET APPROVAL OF ONLINE PROTECTION (AGAINST ONLINE HARM) RULES 2020

NO CONSULTATION WITHOUT WITHDRAWAL OF CABINET APPROVAL OF ONLINE PROTECTION (AGAINST ONLINE HARM) RULES 2020

On February 28, 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through PR No. 267 announced the formation of a committee to begin consultation on the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020. This follows the Prime Minister’s announcement to review the Rules and consult stakeholders, after the Rules drew sharp criticism locally and internationally. However, the government refuses to clarify the legal status of the Rules without which any consultation is merely token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input.

While Cabinet approval for the Rules remains in place, there can be no engagement or consultation. This only shows the government’s intent to use the consultation as a smokescreen while intending to implement and enforce the Rules already prepared and approved. The Rules as they exist, merit no discussion at all. How citizens are to be protected requires an open and informed discussion which takes into account existing procedures, laws as well as how they have been applied. The abuse of authority by the PTA and government, especially their misuse of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to stifle dissent and Section 37 of PECA in particular to report and restrict political speech, will have to be addressed first.

We also call upon tech companies to unequivocally state the terms of their engagement with the government on the Rules. Too often, citizens and end users become collateral in agreements governments and companies reach in breach of their rights, and we wish to remind them their actions will be scrutinized against adherence to global best practices and international principles to protect expression and privacy.

For the benefit of public discourse, we will continue to make public information that illustrates sensible ways of protecting citizens as well as information from comparative jurisdictions, but will not participate in any process initiated to deflect criticism and seeks to draw legitimacy to carry forth the implementation of the Rules that were devised in bad faith.

We demand the following:

– The Rules must be withdrawn by the Federal Cabinet and the decision, as documented through the process, be made public before any consultation is held

– Civil society has been categorical that Section 37 of PECA must be repealed. The consultation must begin by addressing the overbroad and arbitrary nature of Section 37 under which these Rules have been issued and review the abuse of power by the PTA and government in carrying out its functions since the enactment of PECA.

– The consultation must follow an open and transparent process. The committee must make public the agenda, process it intends to follow and clear timelines. All input provided should be minuted and put together in a report form to be disseminated for public feedback with a specified timeline which is reasonable, before which no Rules should be approved or enforced.

To see the list of signatories, view document here.

February 13, 2020 - Comments Off on DRF Condemns Citizen’s Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 as an Affront on Online Freedoms

DRF Condemns Citizen’s Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 as an Affront on Online Freedoms

Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemns the recent ‘Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020’ notified by the Ministry of Information Technology. Digital Rights Foundation raises strong objections to the Rules as they severely restrict the freedom of expression and privacy of Pakistani citizens in online spaces. 

These Rules directly address social media companies and require them to register and locate offices inside Pakistan, particularly establish database servers in the country signaling a definitive move towards data localisation. Additionally, the rules establish a ‘National Coordinator’ to engage with the social media companies on behalf of the Federal Government. The main objective of the Rules, it seems, is to exercise greater control over digital content of Pakistani users of these platforms and social media companies. If these companies do not abide by the requests of the National Coordinator, they will face heavy fines or a total shutdown of their platforms within Pakistan. 

Moreover, social media companies are instructed to “establish one or more database servers in Pakistan within twelve months of the date of publication of these Rules to record and store data and online content, within the territorial boundaries of Pakistan for citizen data privacy” (Section 5(d)). While this is ostensibly being done to protect citizen’s data privacy, it is clear that these Rules have the potential to be used to censor the last remaining frontier of information i.e. online media and make invasions into the personal data of Pakistanis on social media.

Rationale For Condemnation 

The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, chalk out the government’s plan to centralise control of digital information and expression through one central ‘National Coordinator.’ For the following reasons, we reject these rules and believe they should be revoked:

The Rules are a blatant violation of Article 19 (freedom of speech and information) of the Constitution. They exceed the boundaries of permissible restrictions within the meaning of Article 19 and lack the necessary attributes of reasonableness. While Article 19 permits ‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of speech only in the “interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court,” the Rules require all social media companies to remove or block online content if it is, among other things, in “contravention of instructions of the National Coordinator” (Section 4). As is clear from a plain reading of Article 19, ‘contravention of instructions of the National Coordinator’ is not a purpose for which a restriction on freedom of speech may be placed and cannot be used as a benchmark to undermine fundamental rights. 

This allows the National Coordinator to regulate online content purely on its whims and wishes. Further, the Rules require Social Media Companies to remove, suspend or disable any news article that is considered, or interpreted to be, ‘fake’ by the National Coordinator; bestowing upon it unchecked powers to be exercised at convenience.

Additionally, we feel that the additional powers of the Rules go beyond the scope of the parent Acts, i.e. Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. The PTA cannot delegate powers to another authority such as the National Coordinator beyond the powers that were vested in it through the parent legislation.

Violation of Right to Privacy: 

These Rules further weaken the state of privacy in the country: Data privacy is a pre-existing issue in the country, however, given current Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act regulations, there is still a legal process through which information or data on private users can be requested. The Rules presented by the Ministry of IT completely negate the current process, giving the government total access over data and information. Section 6 of the Rules obligates social media companies to provide any information, data, content or sub-content requested by the Investigation Agency. Astonishingly, the agency is not required to go through any legal or judicial procedure to make such a request. More worrying  is the fact that the information/data requested does not necessarily have to be in connection with, or related to, any offence laid out under the Rules rather can be any information the Investigation Agency may wish to pry into. Apart from violating the fundamental right to privacy, the Rules further threaten the state of privacy of private citizens within Pakistan. Furthermore, it is alarming that section 6 requires social media companies to provide information in “decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version”, violating the reasonable expectation of privacy that citizens have when using social media and messaging applications.

Dire Consequences 

The Digital Economy will be massively affected: 

The most obvious effect of these rules will be on the digital ecosystem of Pakistan. These rules are incredibly restrictive and place immense powers in the hands of a ‘National Coordinator’. Such an atmosphere will prove non-conducive for social media companies to move to Pakistan as well as restrict the growth of Pakistan’s domestic digital economy. 

Social media has emerged as the backbone of many modern businesses, and has indeed created a new type of digital market. Many small businesses, women entrepreneurs and content creators use social media as a medium for their business. The imposition of such harsh rules will therefore not only affect individuals but also local startups and e-commerce establishments. 

Pakistan’s appeal as an investment opportunity will diminish: 

The requirement for registering with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (Section 5) and to establish a permanent registered office in Pakistan is a move towards “data localisation,” that will require every company to open an office in Pakistan before they can be granted permission to be viewed and/or create content in Pakistan. This challenges the borderless nature of the internet - a feature that is intrinsic to the internet itself. Even otherwise, forcing businesses to create a local presence is outside normal global business practice and creates a disincentive to invest within Pakistan. Such a regulation will force international social media companies to exit the country rather than invest further in Pakistan. It is unreasonable to expect companies to set up infrastructure in the country as per the Harm Rules when the nature of the internet allows for it to be easily administered remotely.

Society will begin to self-censor and important discourse will decrease: 

These Rules cannot be looked at in isolation. In a society that is faced with such massive impediments to free speech, the likely reaction that citizens end up having is to self censor themselves. People will restrict the discussions they take part in online and will also be less likely to partake in useful and productive conversations around governance and law. This will sever an important tie between the government and its people, thereby creating a massive divide between the two entities; something a democracy such as ours cannot afford. 

February 11, 2020 - Comments Off on A Win For Digital Rights In Pakistan, One Step At A Time

A Win For Digital Rights In Pakistan, One Step At A Time

We welcome the Senate Committee On Human Rights’ decision rejecting the proposed regulation on Web TV and OTT TV, while declaring that PEMRA does not have any jurisdiction over internet and digital content under the PEMRA ordinance. The Senate Committee on Human Rights conducted a briefing about PEMRA’s proposed regulations, inviting Digital Rights Foundation and other civil society organizations on Monday, 10th of February. 

The committee took notice of proposed PEMRA regulations after a strong statement issued by Digital Rights Foundation, Bolo Bhi, IRADA, Freedom Network and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, rejecting PEMRA’s regulation on the whole. Statement was endorsed by dozens of media organizations, the Women Action Forum, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Network of Women Journalists on Digital Rights, independent journalists, content creators, CSOs and feminists movements.   

The Chair of the Committee, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, objected to the proposed regulation while questioning PEMRA’s very jurisdiction over the internet and digital content. Additionally Senator Ayesha Raza commented that if PEMRA aims to ‘level the playing field’ with these regulations then traditional media needs to be incentivized to create competition, rather than curbing the digital economy. 

DRF’s Executive Director, Nighat Dad said that these regulations would mean PEMRA is threatening Pakistan’s growing digital economy and also the livelihood of  digital content creators and influencers. She pressed how these regulations would add further impediments to freedom to expression, given PEMRA’s power to declare anything as ‘illegal content’. These restrictions, she added, would be contradictory to the vision and spirit of the Prime Minister’s ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative.

Bolo Bhi’s Director, Usama Khilji, said that these proposed regulations would impact young entrepreneurs given how digital platforms are used in this modern age. He further added that these regulations would stifle the growth of the startups in Pakistan. Moreover, it was pointed out that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) has provisions to hold digital content creators and influencers accountable.

This is a big win for Pakistan not only for digital rights activists but everyone who is part of the digital economy. DRF, Bolo Bhi, Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development, Freedom Network would like to express our gratitude to each organization and individuals who signed our public statement. 

Lastly, we would like to express our appreciation to Senators Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Senator Quratulain Marri, Senator Usman Kakar and Senator Mohammad Tahir Bizenjo, for giving us all the opportunity to present our arguments and for protecting the digital rights and civil liberties of the citizens of Pakistan. 

 

December 12, 2019 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation conducts its Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight

Digital Rights Foundation conducts its Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) conducted its “Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight” on December 7, 2019 in Islamabad to discuss issues relating to artificial intelligence, and algorithmic decision-making in the context of privacy rights. The event was supported by one of our key partners, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

The keynote address was delivered by former senator Farhatullah Babar. He noted that “the conference was particularly timely given the Prime Minister’s digital Pakistan initiative which currently lacks a perspective on privacy and human rights.” He also said that the University of Balochistan incident demonstrates that the impact of privacy violations is gendered and disproportionately impacts minorities.

The conference featured the Glass Room Exhibit which featured interactive installations such as “The Zuckerberg House”, “The Empire”, “A Data-Day”, “Fake or Real” and “The Real Life of Your Selfie” which were supported by Tactical Tech as part of its global exhibit. This was accompanied by a theatrical performance which dramatised data manipulation of lived experiences and the impact that it has on society. Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF, said that the conference “aimed to contextualise issues of privacy from the perspective of gender, marginalised communities, and interdisciplinary approaches through the use of art and discourse”.

A panel discussion on the topic “The Future of Tech: AI and Algorithms in the Context of the Criminal Justice System & Social Justice” was conducted to tackle the issue of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision-making from a human rights perspective. The panelists included Dr. Maryam Mustafa, Dr. Muhammad Nadeem, Rahma M Mian and Aleena Alavi. Dr. Maryam Mustafa said that “AI has an intimate relationship with patriarchy and racism. Initial tests of voice and facial recognition software found that women and people of colour found it nearly impossible to use these features as the software could not ‘recognise’ them.” Academic and writer, Rahma Mian, pointed out that “the idea of development should not be more technology; we need to be able to rethink technology and its harmony with development and advancement of society.”

The event also included a vibrant debate on the proposition “This House Believes That (THBT): Sentencing by judges should be delegated to algorithms”. Oves Anwar (RSIL), Mujtaba Hussain (KPITP) and Usama Khilji (BoloBhi) spoke in favour of the motion. A team of Malaika Raza, Aniqa Arshad and Zoya Rehman argued against the proposition. The debaters spoke about the structural problems with the justice system, human bias, reformative justice and biased data sets. Oves Anwer spoke about the inherent biases that humans are socialised into and how technology can be a tool to neutralise structural injustices that manifest themselves in judgments. The opposition team made the argument that technology tends to replicate and exasperate societal exclusions and the use of algorithms in sentencing cannot fix the larger problem of inequality in society. At the end of the debate, the audience voted in favour of the proposition.

For more information log on: https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/.

#PrivacyisaRight #PrivacyAwarenessWeek

For more information contact:
Zainab Durrani, Project Manager

zainab@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

0324 4538410
Nighat Dad. Executive Director

nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

November 12, 2019 - Comments Off on Eleven organizations from civil society create the Forum on Information & Democracy, a structural response to information disorder

Eleven organizations from civil society create the Forum on Information & Democracy, a structural response to information disorder

Eleven organizations from civil society create the Forum on Information and Democracy, a new international entity tasked to implement the principles of the International Partnership on information & Democracy, an intergovernmental agreement signed by a coalition of 30 States on the margins of the UN General Assembly last September. It is the continuation of the international process launched by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in September 2018.

In the context of the Paris Peace Forum today, eleven organizations unveiled the newly created Forum on Information & Democracy. This new entity will issue recommendations for standards in order to encourage the regulation and self-regulation  of the space of information and communication. The initiative was welcomed by President Emmanuel Macron during his inaugural speech. He first quoted “the Partnership on Information and Democracy, launched by Reporters Without Borders and supported by governments” to illustrate “the importance of these new forms of cooperation”, “a concrete example of innovations that provide different actors to move forward together".

The association will be based in Paris and will implement the principles from the International Partnership on Information & Democracy, an intergovernmental agreement endorsed by a coalition of 30 States on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The first General Assembly of the Forum on I&D was held yesterday at RSF’s headquarters in Paris. Its eleven founding members are NGOs, think tanks, multistakeholder initiatives and research centers: CIGI (Canada), CIVICUS (South Africa), the Digital Rights Foundation (Pakistan), Free Press Unlimited (Netherlands), the Human Rights Centre at UC Berkeley School of Law, University of California (United States), the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (United Kingdom), OBSERVACOM (Uruguay), the Open Government Partnership, the Peace Research Institute Oslo (Norway), Reporters without Borders/RSF (France) and Research ICT Africa (South Africa).

The Forum’s Board of Directors elected the RSF Secretary general, Christophe Deloire as its President. Nighat Dad (executive director of Digital Rights Foundation) and Leon Willems (director of Free Press Unlimited) were elected as Vice-President and Treasurer.

In accordance with its bylaws, the Forum will evaluate the means, norms and architectures of the global space of information and communication; investigate respect for the principles of the Declaration and Partnership on Information and Democracy by the corporate entities that shape this space (the online platforms); and, above all, issue recommendations for governments, platforms and the media industry on how the norms that govern this space should evolve. It will encourage self-regulatory mechanisms and promote the social function of journalism.

The Forum’s permanent secretariat will set up working groups tasked with formulating recommendations for regulation and self-regulation in order to address new challenges brought up by technological disruptions and for which existing legislation is not adapted.

During the inauguration of the Forum on Information & Democracy,  the President of Latvia Egils Levits, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius, the Chancellor of South Korea’s National Diplomatic Academy, Kim Joon Hyung, and the Council of Europe’s Director of Democratic Governance, Claudia Luciani, recalled the importance of the Partnership. Some founding members,  including the CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Sasha Havlicek, the Executive Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Henrik Urdal and the Head of the Geneva office of CIVICUS, Susan Wilding explained the importance and the need for this new organization. Christophe Deloire and Shirin Ebadi, the co-chairs of the International Commission on Information and Democracy (see below), and three other members of the Commission, Can Dündar, Hauwa Ibrahim and Nighat Dad, also outlined the overall logic of the initiative and the central place given to civil society.

About the International Initiative on Information and Democracy 

RSF launched this international initiative in September 2018 when it created the International Commission on Information and Democracy consisting of 25 prominent figures of 18 nationalities. This Commission is co-chaired by Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Other members of the Commission include laureates of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, the French jurist Mireille Delmas Marty, Honorary Professor at the Collége de France, journalists Maria Ressa and Can Dündar, and new technology expert Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Centre at Harvard University.

The Commission drafted the International Declaration on Information and Democracy which received the support of twelve Heads of State and Government in November 2018, including Emmanuel Macron (France), Carlos Alvarado (Costa Rica), Bechir Caid Essebsi (Tunisia), Erna Solberg (Norway) and Justin Trudeau (Canada). It also received the support of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, and the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland.

The ensuing Partnership for Information and Democracy was presented at the G7 summit in August 2019, winning the support of G7 members and the leaders of other major democracies also attending the summit.

On the Forum’s founding members

About CIGI

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank whose mission is to build bridges from knowledge to power by conducting world-leading research and influencing policy makers to innovate. CIGI is headquartered in Waterloo, Canada and has a global network of partners and researchers based around the world. Our peer-reviewed, evidence-based research focuses on digital governance issues relating to the global economy, international law and global security. In collaboration with strategic partners and support received from the Government of Canada and founder Jim Balsillie, our research covers some of the most important issues of our time such as artificial intelligence, platform governance and multilateral trade.

Press contact :  

Kristy Smith, ksmith@cigionline.org or +1 519 580 5566

About CIVICUS

With headquarters in South Africa, and hubs in New York and Geneva, CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organizations and individuals dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.  The alliance works to protect the fundamental civic freedoms that allow us to speak out, organize and take action. We do this by defending civic freedoms and democratic values; strengthening the power of people; and empowering a more accountable, effective and innovative civil society.  We strive to promote excluded voices, especially from the Global South, and have a growing alliance of more than 8000 members in more over 175 countries.

Press contact :

Deborah Walter : +27 11 833 5959  / deborah.walter@civicus.org / media@civicus.org

About the Digital Rights Foundation

The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection, surveillance and online violence against women. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on-ground and online.

Press contact :

Haider Kaleem : haider@digitalrightsfoundation.pk  / +92-42-35852180
About Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Free Press Unlimited is a Netherlands-based media development organization that works in more than 30 countries and strives  to ensure that impartial news and information are available to people across the globe, particularly in countries where there is no to little press freedom. By supporting local media professionals and journalists, Free Press Unlimited aims to help people gain access to the information they need to survive and develop.

Press contact :

Marieke Le Poole : lepoole@freepressunlimited.org
About the Human Rights Centre at UC Berkeley School of Law

The Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, conducts research on war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. Using evidence-based methods and innovative technologies, we support efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, protect vulnerable populations, and amplify the voices of survivors. We seek to close research gaps in global understanding related to refugees and immigrants, indigenous people, workers, women, survivors of trafficking and sexual violence, and other targeted populations. Our Investigations Lab trains students how to find and verify photographs, videos, and other social media sources to investigate potential international crimes, monitor hate speech, and counter disinformation for major NGOS, legal entities, international bodies, and media. We are working with the United Nations Office of Human Rights to develop and publish the first international protocol on open source investigations.

Press contact : 

Andrea Lampros : alampros@berkeley.edu
About the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD)

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, launched in 2006, is now the leading global ‘think and do’ tank dedicated to understanding and innovating real-world responses to the rising tide of polarisation, hate and extremism of all forms. ISD combines anthropological research, expertise in international extremist movements and an advanced digital analysis capability that tracks hate, disinformation and extremism online, with policy advisory support and training to governments and cities around the world. ISD also works to empower youth and community influencers internationally through its education, technology and communications programmes, including a range of initiatives run in partnership with MIT, Google, Microsoft and Facebook. At the same time ISD is working with a number of governments to design and mount digital policy and regulatory solutions to the algorithmic amplification of polarisation and extremism online.

Press contact :

Evie Penington : pa@isdglobal.org
About OBSERVACOM

OBSERVACOM (Latin American Observatory for Regulation, Media and Convergence) is a nonprofit, professional and independent regional think tank, specialized in regulation and public policy related to media, telecommunications, Internet and freedom of expression. We approach these issues from a rights perspective and prioritize aspects related to access, diversity and pluralism. OBSERVACOM is composed of experts and researchers committed to the protection and promotion of democracy, cultural diversity, human rights and freedom of expression in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Press contacts :

Bruce Girard : bgirard@comunica.org

João Brant : joaocbrant@gmail.com

About the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

In 2011, government leaders and civil society advocates came together to create a unique partnership—one that combines these powerful forces to promote accountable, responsive and inclusive governance. Seventy-nine countries and a growing number of local governments—representing more than two billion people—along with thousands of civil society organizations are members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

Press contact : 

Jose Perez Escotto  : jose.perez@opengovpartnership.org
About PRIO

The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) conducts research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people. Founded in 1959, PRIO is an independent research institution committed to academic excellence and known for its effective synergy of basic and policy-relevant research. PRIO further conducts graduate training and is engaged in the promotion of peace through conflict resolution, dialogue and reconciliation, public information and policymaking activities.

Press contacts : 

Agnete Schjønsby : agnete@prio.org

Indigo Trigg-Hauger  : indtri@prio.org
About Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Reporters Without Borders, also known under its French name Reporters sans frontières (RSF), is an international non-governmental organization defending freedom, independence and pluralism of journalism. Recognized as a public utility in France, RSF enjoys consultative status with the UN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organisation of La Francophonie. Headquartered in Paris, RSF has offices in 14 cities around the world and correspondents in 130 countries.

Press contacts :

Emilie Poirrier / epoirrier@rsf.org / 0033 6 77 92 16 77

Sophie Minodier / sminodier@rsf.org / 0033 6 26 49 38 53
About Research ICT Africa

Research ICT Africa conducts public-interest research on the digital economy and society that responds to national, regional and continental needs. We provide relevant stakeholders with the information and analysis required to develop flexible and adaptive policies and regulation to deal with an increasingly complex and dynamic digital environment. Our network contributes to the gathering and analysis of data and indicators to establish a repository of knowledge for furthering research and digital governance.

Press contact :

Oarabile Mudongo : omudongo@researchictafrica.net

November 5, 2019 - Comments Off on Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row

Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row

Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net (FoTN) report for the year 2019, titled “The Crisis of Social Media” to reflect the plethora of issues emerging on social media. The report finds an overall decline in global internet freedom for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. It is noted that while “social media at times served as a level playing field for civic discussion, they are now tilting dangerously toward illiberalism, exposing citizens to an unprecedented crackdown on their fundamental freedoms.” The report focuses on developments that occurred between June 2018 till May 2019.

Pakistan’s ranking on the report remains “Not Free” for the coverage period, with its score decreasing from 27 to 26. Internet freedom declined during this report’s coverage period due to authorities’ increased blocking of political, social, and cultural websites. The general election environment in July 2018 saw connectivity restrictions and increased disinformation. Meanwhile, authorities upped their efforts to silence critical journalists and activists using a range of techniques. Users were again sentenced to death on charges of posting blasphemous content online, although their convictions are under appeal. 

The report for Pakistan was authored by Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and evaluated through the methodology developed by Freedom House. The report methodology assesses 65 countries across the world, based on three broad criteria: obstacles to access; limits on content; and violations of user rights. Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF, stated that “the score this year is the culmination of short-term and regressive policies by successive governments. Years worth of draconian legislation and investment in structures that stymie freedom of expression have led to an environment where the internet in Pakistan is more unsafe and less inclusive.”

Key developments during the coverage period include:
  • Authorities shut down mobile and internet service during protests and in the lead-up to the July 2018 general elections, in both populous cities and less developed regions.
  • Over 800,000 websites hosting political, religious, and social content remain blocked. Voice of America’s websites in Urdu and Pashto were temporary inaccessible during the coverage period, as was the website of the leftist Awami Workers Party.
  • Inauthentic content and automated accounts impacted the online landscape. It emerged, for instance, that bots supporting various political parties surfaced ahead of the July 2018 general elections, while Facebook removed content it claimed to be linked to the Pakistani military’s public relations department.
  • In December 2018, two brothers were sentenced to death for blasphemy, for allegedly sharing “disrespectful material” about the prophet Mohammad on their website in 2011.
  • The government increased social media monitoring, announcing a new system to target extremism, hate speech, and anti-national content. The announcement came a month before the Interior Ministry launched an investigation into journalists and activists supporting murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi on social media.
  • Activists and bloggers faced physical attacks and death threats during the coverage period, while several journalists were booked under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.
The full report can be accessed here. Pakistan’s country-specific report is available here: https://www.freedomonthenet.org/country/pakistan/freedom-on-the-net/2019.

#FreedomOnTheNet

October 27, 2019 - Comments Off on Hearing at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights regarding Privacy and Harassment

Hearing at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights regarding Privacy and Harassment

On 25 October 2019, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), along with members of civil society and student activists, got a chance to brief the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights’ session on the issue of the University of Balochistan in light of privacy, surveillance of campuses and harassment in educational institutes. Along with the acting Vice-Chancellor of the University, student representatives were given a chance to put forward their demands. The Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Khawar Mumtaz, academic & activist Arfana Mallah and Shmyla Khan from DRF gave their recommendations to the Committee.

The facts presented in front of the Committee stated that 92 surveillance cameras had been installed by the university, however, in light of an investigation ordered by the Balochistan High Court, a total of eight unauthorized cameras were found. These cameras were used to record footage of students without their consent and resulted in blackmailing of students at the hands of the administration. The Senators expressed shock and called for accountability of the senior administration of the university, particularly the VC Dr. Iqbal Javed who stepped down after the incident gained national prominence. It was also revealed the University has no harassment committee as per the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act and the HEC’s Policy Guidelines against Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning.

The two student representatives from Quetta highlighted that campuses in Balochistan are highly militarized and controlled spaces. There exists an atmosphere of fear that allows for incidents such as these to remain unreported for years. They demanded that there should be accountability for all involved, to prevent scapegoating of a few individuals instead of addressing the systemic information. They demanded that there should be a ban all arms and ammunition inside university campuses and surveillance cameras should be restricted to the outer gates of campuses. They also stated that a committee for harassment should be set up immediately and given adequate independence and powers. According to the Balochistan Ombudsperson on Workplace Harassment, only one university in the province has a harassment committee in place. The students asked that the ban on student unions should be lifted to allow for organizing on campuses.

Arfana Mallah stated that this issue not confined to one campus or part of the country. There is dearth of women in places of higher education, with women constituting only 20% of the student population and faculty in universities. She demanded that gender audits of educational institutes should be conducted and gender parity should be taken into account when university rankings are conducted. Arfana explained that the CCTV cameras installed under the 2007 HEC directive has resulted in moral policing of students as the camera ends up replicating a patriarchal gaze.

Shmyla from DRF pointed out the need for the protection of the Constitutional right to privacy through a comprehensive personal data protection legislation that shifts the balance of power between the user and data controllers. DRF recommended that cameras from campuses should be removed until HEC develops strong regulation and SOPs for cameras and the data collected. In order to ensure that campuses become critical spaces, it is important to strengthen harassment committees and to closely monitor their progress.

Several senators expressed shock at the state of affairs at universities. Senator Ayesha Raza termed the actions of the university admin as criminal negligence. She also iterated the need for gender parity on committees tasked with addressing harassment. Senator Saif noted that consent-based surveillance should be implemented and stressed the importance of regulation of citizen’s data collected by both private and public bodies.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, decided that a two-pronged approach will be tacked in address the matter. Firstly, in the short term, the Committee will closely monitor the investigation of the incident and the next meeting of the Committee will be held inside the University of Balochistan campus. He also noted that the deployment of security forces at campuses should be reviewed across the country. In the long term approach, HEC will be directed to develop a policy framework to ensure fundamental rights at educational institutions. He recommended that gender rankings be made part of annual rankings issued by the HEC. The Chairperson echoed the demand for restoration of student unions. He also highlighted the urgent need for a data protection law in Pakistan. Senator Khokhar promised that the committee will continue to monitor the FIA proceedings into the privacy violations at the University of Balochistan.

We commend the committee for taking up the issue and framing it as an issue of privacy violations and harassment of female bodies. We hope that they will continue to follow up on these promises.