Study raises concern over internet surveillance
ISLAMABAD: 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.