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September 4, 2014 - Comments Off on Massive Uproar in Pakistan due to Instagram’s Ban

Massive Uproar in Pakistan due to Instagram’s Ban

Instagram

Instagram was banned in Pakistan for a short while on 29 August 2014.

For photographers, photojournalists and digital media marketers, whose bread and butter was Instagram, it appeared to be a nightmare. At first it appeared to be server error, but when Twitter users were confirmed by PTCL that the unbelievable really has happened, the online community burst into total fury.

While YouTube had a reason to be banned because of the controversial anti-Islamic film, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority gave no reason why the Instagram ban was necessary.

Concerns over whether Facebook was going to be targeted next by the censorship police hit the social media community as they vexed their frustration online.

For some reason the PTA believes that banning the medium is the only way to stop a message from proliferating. What if some day you got to know that the television has been banned because of some controversial channels? What if some day you are told that the entire newspaper industry is banned because of one contentious article in a newspaper? Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it?

Although Instagram was restored a few hours later, what really happened is still a mystery. Whatever was the case, the only question is; is Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest coming up next? Will this bombardment on social networks by the PTA ever stop?

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

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

Irfan-Cybercrime1-660x330 Respected Senators,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

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

December 9, 2013 - Comments Off on DRF Research Report: Net Privacy in South Asia

DRF Research Report: Net Privacy in South Asia

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

Pakistan – digital dictatorship in the guise of a democracy:

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

May 3, 2013 - Comments Off on Global Coalition Of NGOs Call To Investigate & Disable FinFisher’s Espionage Equipment in Pakistan

Global Coalition Of NGOs Call To Investigate & Disable FinFisher’s Espionage Equipment in Pakistan

Note: This is a Bolo Bhi & Digital Rights Foundation’s open call for support for national and international human rights organizations against espionage and surveillance in Pakistan.

This statement is pursuant to the Citizen Lab report, “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” the report describes the results of 1 year of research into the global market for commercial intrusion and monitoring software. The report included a global mapping of the command and control servers used for FinFisher, a remote intrusion and monitoring product line sold to governments. Pakistan was identified among the countries where FinFisher Command and Control servers have been found.

We are a consortium of NGOs and individuals— ARTICLE 19,  Association For Progressive Communications, Access Now, Bolo Bhi, Centre For Democracy & Technology, Centre For Peace & Development Initiatives, Christopher Parsons,Chunri Chuopaal, Digital Rights Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Global Voices Advocacy, Index On Censorship, Intermedia Pakistan, Individual Land Pakistan, Leila Nechwati,  Privacy International, Reporters Without Borders, Simon Davies (Privacy Surgeon), Institute for Research Advocacy and Development Pakistan,The Centre for Internet and Society, The Internet Democracy Project India, The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA),  Nawaat — committed to respecting user privacy and promoting freedom of expression and access to information.

We express our dismay and condemnation over the presence of a FinFisher Command and Control server on a network operated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Read more

February 2, 2013 - Comments Off on DRF Joins Hands with Punjab Government and 16 Civil Society Organisations to Enact Right to Information Law

DRF Joins Hands with Punjab Government and 16 Civil Society Organisations to Enact Right to Information Law

Coalition for Right to Information (CRTI) is working towards the enactment of said law in Pakistan following the international best practises of right to information legislations and implementation of existing information laws.

Punjab province despite being the biggest in Pakistan lacks any proper laws to provide easy access of information to its citizens. Though the tenure of current provincial government is coming to an end but during the previous four years the provincial govenment could only manage to present a draft bill on right to information laws.

Digital Rights Foundation has also joined hands with CRTI in an attempt to put forward specific recommendations aimed at improving the draft bill prepared by Punjab Government. The participants of the conference held at Lahore on January 30th, 2013 unanimously passed ‘CRTI Lahore Declaration’ urging Punjab government to enact law on right to information on priority basis.

The coalition has recommended that the law cannot be restricted only to "citizens of Punjab", as is suggested in the draft bill. Right to Information is a fundamental right of every Pakistani national and should be implemented all over the country rather than one province. CRTI also welcomes the establishment of Punjab Information Commission to have a strong, focused and effective commission to achieve the objectives.

Being a democratic country, citizens of Pakistan have all the right to know how government uses the powers and resources at its disposal. CRTI strongly opposed any exclusion of documents and information relating to internal working from the public sphere which is clearly an unreasonable restriction and is, therefore, in contravention of Article 19-A of the Constituion. Doing so would negate peoples’ right in this regard and, hence, will undermine their ability to oversee and make suggestions for increasing efficiency or improving performance.

The press release can be accessed here.

 

November 1, 2012 - Comments Off on Acid Prevention Bill Consultation

Acid Prevention Bill Consultation

Organized by ASF (Acid Survivors Foundation), a committee was invited to discuss and propose the Acid Prevention Bill to the government in 2010.

It was quite a historic moment in December, 2011 when the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill were passed in parliament along with The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill.

The Acid Control & Acid Crime Prevention bill recommends 14-year to lifetime imprisonment sentences to the perpetrators and fines up to Rs. 1 million.

 

October 31, 2012 - Comments Off on Building the Great Firewall? Just Follow the Masters!

Building the Great Firewall? Just Follow the Masters!

 

Governments worldwide are trying to introduce legislations for cyber censorship, curbing the privacy of internet users. And it’s no different here in Pakistan. In fact the government of Pakistan is way ahead of many others when it comes to escalating internet censorship in the name of “national security”.

A division of the Ministry of Information, the National ICT R&D Fund, has published a Request for Proposals for a National URL Filtering and Blocking System. This proposal seeks to build a central database that would monitor URLs and handle a “block list” of over 50 million “undesirable” URLs.

At present if the government wants to ban any site it sends notice to that site’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) but with this system, when realized, the government will be able to shut down any site it wants without recourse to any intermediary and for whatever reason it sees fit.

With its Request for Proposals, the current democratic government of Pakistan is actually following the footsteps of those totalitarian regimes that block the highways of global connectivity for their citizens for their own spurious reasons. The Great Firewall of China operated by Ministry of Public Security China is one prime example. And Pakistan as the “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans” friend of China is only too proud to mimic China whenever possible for the benefit of the government or army.

The Request for Proposals claims that “Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered” and goes on to demonstrate the need of central blocking mechanism:

“The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and backbone providers have currently deployed manual URL filtering and blocking mechanism in order to block the specific URLs containing undesirable content as notified by PTA from time to time.

Many countries have deployed web filtering and blocking systems at Internet backbones within their countries. However, Pakistani ISPs and backbone providers have expressed their inability to block millions of undesirable web sites using current manual blocking systems. A national URL filtering and blocking system is therefore required to be deployed at national IP backbone of the country.”

This is not the first time that some sort of internet ban is being proposed in Pakistan; we have a long history of cyber censorship. The Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) blocked thousands of websites in 2007 in response to the Supreme Court’s order for “banning blasphemous” sites. In 2008, PTA blocked Youtube after the site hosted “Fitna”, the film by Geert Wilder.

Then, in May 2010 courts in Pakistan gave the government orders to ban the social networking site Facebook after some user started the controversial contest “Let’s Draw Muhammad”. Netizens of Pakistan had to use proxies to reach to their favorite social media site.

Recently, in November last year, PTA sent a notice to all cell phone companies to block some 1,600 terms and phrases deemed to be obscene from text messages or they would face stringent legal action. The directive wasn’t only hegemonic and unconstitutional but also supported the culture of moral policing in the country.

As can be seen, most such moves draw on the same tired old indefensible excuses of religious moral policing, the danger of terrorism and national security to justify themselves. The mass of the people become a puppet when the name of religion is invoked. Countrywide protests about the drawing competition moved the courts to take the decision to ban Facebook in May 2010 and now the blanket ban of URLs has the front banner claiming to ban pornographic sites “for the sake of our next generation”.

This seems to be the general reason but once it’s started who knows which sites we will be “allowed” to browse and which sites will be banned. As in China it could well be any site that carries the slightest criticism of the government or army. The envisaged plan with the capacity to block 50 million URLs with a delay no longer than one millisecond is not only deeply worrying but also indicative of the scalability of the government’s plans.

Information and communication technology is the driving force of today’s world. Rather than impinging on citizens’ privacy, the government of Pakistan should focus on training people in digital security to enable them to protect themselves and their children. Religious and cultural intolerance can only be increased by cutting people’s access to communication with the rest of the world. Enriching inter-cultural, inter-ethnic programmes and investing taxpayer’s money in basic education and health will give us much better long-term results. Banning what it deems to be “pornographic” sites only shows that the government considers the people to be infantile, vulnerable and stupid.

 

Originally written for Future Challenges.