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December 4, 2014 - Comments Off on Freedom on the Net 2014 – Pakistan’s Scores Going from Bad to Worse

Freedom on the Net 2014 – Pakistan’s Scores Going from Bad to Worse

Freedom on the Net 2014 – Pakistan’s Falling Scores on Internet Freedom Ranking

Lahore, December 4, 2014: The latest Freedom on the Net report of Freedom House that is conducted in 60 countries around the world shows declining scores for Pakistan. Inclusion of online spaces as evidence in the draconian laws of Blasphemy while having no strong legal-cyber framework and implementation of technologies to censor political and social content remain the worrying highlights of this year's Net Freedom report.

FoTN 2014 report was meticulously researched by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan along with the research analysts of Freedom House. This report is an attempt to compile and assess the limits on content, violations of user rights in Pakistan, and overall Net Freedom in the country. Here are some of the highlights of Freedom on the Net 2014 report on Pakistan:

  • Four women were brutally killed for using mobile technology in rural areas of Pakistan
  • Citizen Lab researchers found Netsweeper technology automatically blocking political and social content on Pakistan’s largest ISP
  • In April 2014, a judge in Punjab sentenced a Christian couple to death for blasphemy in relation to a text message they deny sending
  • Lawyer Rashid Rehman was shot dead on May 7 after receiving threats for representing a professor jailed on charge of committing blasphemy on Facebook
  • Pakistan started offering faster mobile internet connectivity (limited to urban centers) in the form of 3G and 4G
  • YouTube has been blocked since September 2012 while officials jockey to systematize control over the platform
  • Authorities' newly blocked film details referencing Baloch independence and a gay community website
  • Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2013 (now an Act) categorized unspecified “internet offenses” as terrorism, with suspects subject to arbitrary detention

“Pervasive  and Increased government control on the Internet whether in form of censorship or with new surveillance tactics, is limiting freedom of expression and amplifying self censorship among the internet users in Pakistan. The dangerous trend of introducing draconian and repressive laws to limit the civil liberties in the online space is only an effort to block political dissent and diverse opinions," commented Nighat Dad, Director, Digital Rights Foundation. "Pakistani government should understand that increased Internet censorship and data surveillance can only turn this democratic state into a repressive regime.”

Sanja Kelly, Project Director for Freedom on the Net talking about how legal framework is being constructed at the expense of citizen privacy mentioned, “authoritarian and democratic leaders alike believe the internet is ripe for regulation and passed laws that strengthen official powers to police online content. The scramble to legislate comes at the expense of user rights, as lawmakers deliberately or misguidedly neglect privacy protections and judicial oversight.The situation is especially problematic in less democratic states where citizens have no avenues to challenge or appeal government’s actions”

Pakistan scored 69 points (on a list of 0 to 100, where 100 is worst), two points down from last year's ranking. It is concerning for the civil society and Internet users in the country to see an elected government not respecting citizen's privacy or access to the Internet. Pakistan is in dire need of strong, citizen-centric cyber laws that could protect users from online crimes and false witnesses.

To view full country report of Pakistan, please visit Freedom on the Net, 2014.

– End –

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, follow the hashtag #FOTN14 or like us on Facebook!

December 30, 2013 - Comments Off on Study raises concern over internet surveillance

Study raises concern over internet surveillance

Team DRF along with Freedom House international team carried the research on Freedom on the Net 2013 country report. Coverage by Dawn news daily.

Even after the change of government, internet surveillance is expected to remain the same and blockade of some internet services like YouTube may continue in the country. It has been revealed by a study on ‘Freedom on the Net 2013’ conducted by the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) Pakistan along with research analysts of Freedom House to assess freedom on the net in 60 countries. The DRF has worked for several months to research, compile and assess the limits on contents, violations of user rights and overall internet freedom in Pakistan.

The study report claims that members of civil society have strongly condemned the presence of FinFisher’s Spy tools on the Pakistan Telecommunication Ltd network. The government’s plan to systematise websites blocking has been one of the most worrisome developments in 2012 and this year. It said violations of user rights had been on the rise last year, with cases like the shooting of a 15-year-old blogger and activist Malala Yousufzai. A number of blasphemy cases were also registered, sometimes just to settle business rivalries.

“Pakistan remains one of the worst countries when it comes to online freedom of speech, user rights and citizens’ privacy,” DRF Executive Director Nighat Dad said. “The state has been rigorously trying to implement the best of surveillance setups to create a kind of watchdog upon activists, journalists and a common citizen in the name of war against terrorism. Pakistan’s civil society, despite being faced with threats and vicious consequences, is strongly fighting against the state-employed policies and technologies that can hurt citizens”. According to the report, the upper house of parliament in February granted security agencies permission to monitor private emails and cellphone communications in order to collect evidence of terrorist activities, threatening citizens’ privacy. In areas like Balochistan, activists are even more at threat with plethora of intelligence agencies and the army trying to suppress their voices.

The report found that intelligence agencies had been pressuring the federal government for greater surveillance control and location tracking system. “While all this has been moved forward to fight against terrorists, it is evident that these technologies are used to threaten media personnel and attack activists and other common citizens,” it said.

Originally published on Dawn

December 30, 2013 - Comments Off on Pakistan bottom of the barrel on net freedom: Report

Pakistan bottom of the barrel on net freedom: Report

Team Digital Rights Foundation carried out the research on "Freedom on the Net 2013" Pakistan country report along with the international Freedom House editors and researchers. Tribune Pakistan's coverage:

Government creating and installing new equipment to systemise website blocking and filtering, new report finds. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

KARACHI: Pakistan is among the bottom ten countries in the Freedom on the Net 2013 report, which measures the level of internet and digital media freedom in 60 countries. The annual report is carried out by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization.

In the new report, each country received a numerical score from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), which serves as the basis for internet freedom status. Pakistan received a score of 67 and status ‘not free’, whereas Iceland was at the top with a score of just 6.

The Pakistan section of the report was conducted just after the elections held on May 11, 2013 and covered the developments regarding internet freedom between the time period May 2012 – April 2013. It was researched and compiled by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan along with research analysts of Freedom House.

“Pakistan remains one of the worst countries when it comes to online freedom of speech, user rights and citizens’ privacy”, commented Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director, Nighat Dad.  “In the past year, state has been rigorously trying to implement the best of surveillance set-ups to create a kind of watchdog upon activists, journalists and a common citizen on the name of war against terrorism. Pakistan’ civil society, despite being faced with threats and vicious consequences, is strongly fighting against the state-employed policies and technologies that can hurt Pakistani citizen”.

Main findings

Even though the number of internet users in the country is increasing, the Pakistan reportstates that there have been various political and social obstacles by successive governments that came into power, in the name of fighting terrorism and preserving Islam.

This has caused problems for many civil rights activists, students and other such personnel who want to engage in intensive multimedia training, the report concluded.

According to the report:

“Legal measures also threatened digital rights, particularly over sensitive religious issues. At least two of the 23 criminal investigations launched in 2012 under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws—which carry the death penalty—involved content sent by mobile phone. A Twitter spat escalated into a defamation suit after a political website accused a religious leader of inciting hatred”.

Obstacles to access

According to the report, “Low literacy, difficult economic conditions, and cultural resistance have limited the proliferation of ICTs in Pakistan. Poor copper wire infrastructure and inadequate monitoring of service quality by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) have historically stymied the expansion of broadband internet.”

Only urban cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar have access to better quality broadband services, the report found.

Additionally, the report cited “bureaucratic hurdles” as having caused a problem for development of 3G or 4G networks.

Access to the internet has been deliberately obstructed by the Pakistani authorities in Balochistan where there has been persistent conflict between the Baloch nationalists and the security forces, the report stated.

Limits on content

Some of the major developments by the government in 2012 and 2013 included creating and installing new equipment to systemise website blocking and filtering, the report found.

Despite such blocking, the report concluded that Pakistanis have relatively open access to international news organizations and other independent media, as well as a range of websites representing Pakistani political parties, local civil society groups, and international human rights organizations.

“Nevertheless, most online commentators exercise a degree of self-censorship when writing on topics such as religion, blasphemy, separatist movements, and women’s and LGBT rights,” it added.


Ordinary internet users as well as activists, bloggers, and media representatives in Balochistan are concerned about government surveillance as they feel restricted to openly talk about their religious beliefs, particularly atheists.

In February 2013, the upper house of parliament passed the Fair Trial Act 2012 allows security agencies to seek a judicial warrant to monitor private communications “to neutralize and prevent threat or any attempt to carry out scheduled offenses;” and covers information sent from or received in Pakistan or between Pakistani citizens whether they are resident in the country or not. Under the law, service providers face a one-year jail term or a fine of up to PKR 10 million for failing to cooperate with the warrant.

According to the report, “Pakistan is also reported to be a long-time customer of Narus, a US-based firm known for designing technology that allows for monitoring of traffic flows and deep-packet inspection of internet communications, and some media reports say Pakistani authorities have also acquired surveillance technology from China.”

Originally published on Tribune.