The Good, the Bad and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is the regulator not just of telecommunications but also of how we should live our lives.
Better sense has prevailed and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has reversed recent government proposals to ban the sale of SIMs at retail outlets and disallow mobile phone number portability. That the prime minister deserves to be congratulated for taking steps that only maintain the status quo regarding freedom in communication shows just how far down the censorship path the government has walked in the name of national security and morality. The interior ministry can shut down mobile phones for days, depriving citizens of a basic right to communicate, and it is justified because it seems to be the centrepiece of a counterterrorism strategy that seems not to contain any actual CT measures such as improved intelligence gathering and so on.
Apparently, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is the regulator not just of telecommunications but also of how we should live our lives. People of the opposite gender talking to each other late at night just isn’t on and the telecommunication regulator, of all things, will do what it can to stop that — our personal freedoms be damned. Even more shocking is the evidence the PTA presented in court to ensure the dismissal of a petition filed against the ban by telecommunication companies.
Apparently, the PTA reproduced transcripts of the kind of late-night calls that it is seeking to discourage. The real scandal here is not the private conversations of supposedly free citizens; it is that this was falsely presented as evidence of its decision to ban late-night packages. Section 21(4)(f) of the PTA Act of 1996, under which the regulator was set up, does permit “monitoring the use of telecom equipment to ensure that it is not being misused” but to justify listening in on private conversations is a far stretch here. So, what actually needs to be done is that the PTA should be asked to explain under what legal provision it went ahead to monitor such conversations. Surely, that was not a national security matter and if it was, then the PTA is not the body to be doing any such monitoring.