Phone packages, privacy, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the law
By: Ali Moeen Nawazish
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) recently put a halt on the late night telephone packages offered by telecommunication in Pakistan. Telecommunications challenged the decision in court. The PTA in response submitted transcripts of a few late night conversations in court, after which telecommunications companies withdrew their case.
If you are to understand the many implications within the above paragraph you will feel very uneasy, and chances are you will be shocked! There are two things to consider in this fiasco. Night packages were first introduced a few years ago in an attempt to boost revenue in a market where so much competition had made making profit by simple telecom pricing and services had become difficult. Other value added services were also introduced, such as SMS bundles, dial tunes etc. Time based pricing and other bucket pricing (bundles of minutes and texts) are standard practice throughout the world.
In Pakistan, these have become an issue for a few reasons. First of all, they provide a way to communicate to young people who find it difficult to connect through more traditional means.
Where meeting socially is a taboo, and men and women and boys and girls find it difficult to interact with each other at length, night packages and similar bundles had become a way out. From a social perspective it is argued that these packages have had a bad influence on our young generation by encouraging them to stay up late at night. It is also argued that late night conversations are unsupervised and hence have more of a chance to be immoral.
However, other positive uses as usual are sidelined. These include, people working far away from their hometowns can talk for long hours. Friends who can’t meet as often due to the worsening security situation can stay in touch this way. Also these packages are not the only thing enabling late night conversation. The internet, skype and other voip services are also becoming prevalent.
This type of moral policing can be dangerous, where uses are assumed and punished. In developed countries and the world all over, moral policing is left to parents, families and schools.
These kinds of blanket bans are not only counter-productive but make room for taking away of fundamental liberties later on. Parents should be more responsible in monitoring what their kids are doing. Adults do have a right to use the services as they deem fit for themselves. Moral policing never ever really works, it is through awareness and training those morals can be ensured.
For example, making queues is not a law in the UK, but people choose to make them and are stern if anyone breaks them. There is no moral policing but in effect, through awareness, and training at home it has become a part of the local culture. Similarly for television and films, it is left at the discretion of parents most of the time to determine what is appropriate for their children or not.
The second thing to consider is the breach of privacy that has happened in turn of PTAs actions. Tapping and listening in to someone’s phone conversations without a legal warrant is unacceptable. In Pakistan for the sake of national security mobile and telecommunications companies are required to give listening in access to PTA and other government agencies. How the subject of nightly conversations become a threat to national security has is a baffling question.
By submitting these transcripts into court, essentially the PTA has made the transcripts of the private conversations of individuals a part of public record. This is not only a gross violation of privacy rights, but also unacceptable. People as citizens of a free country should feel violated, but alas such awareness and protection of the privacy of citizens is not yet properly guaranteed.
The court should first ask PTA why such unnecessary phone tappings were done, and how are they justified. An example should be made for the sake of the protection of the rights of privacy. Every citizen deserves the right to privacy, and only true instances of national security should justify such a breach.
Unfortunately technology in Pakistan has moved too fast and law and legislation has failed to keep up. The world of technology is one which is based on freedom and not restrictions. Our incompetent and unaware institutions try to use the same restrictive principles on it as they do in other avenues. Yet, this by design as a policy is flawed and will remain flawed.