Monthly Archives: October 2013

Access Is My Right!: Bytes for All Launches Campaign Against Internet Filtering and Online Censorship in Pakistan

B4A - Prosperous Pakistan

Cyber Steward partner Bytes for All (B4A) has launched “Access Is My Right” — an advocacy campaign to engage Pakistani citizens on Internet censorship, privacy, and freedom of expression in the country. The campaign calls on citizens to raise awareness of information controls by sharing campaign visuals across the Internet, especially on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

B4A describes the campaign as “a call for [a] larger human rights movement in the country and [for] citizens to fight the ongoing censorship as it will further take its toll on already compromised civil liberties in the country.”

The campaign features original art pieces by local artist Anny Zafar that highlight government practices and policies that limit the right to freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by the Pakistani constitution. It also complements larger campaigns that B4A has launched in response to threats to user rights, such as online filtering and surveillance.

Bytes for All (B4A) actively campaigns against the use of information controls in Pakistan. In recent years, the Pakistani government has blocked YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and certain pages on Flickr and Wikipedia over content deemed to be threatening to national security or considered blasphemous. The Pakistani government has also on two occasions imposed cellphone communication bans in the name of national security.

In January 2013, B4A and the Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI) submitted a petition to the Lahore High Court challenging the government’s censorship of YouTube and other websites, claiming that Internet censorship is a violation of civil and political rights.

B4A’s Country Director, Shahzad Ahmad, has pointed out that this case is vital for upholding democratic rights and principles in Pakistan: “YouTube was shut down to try and control the news of massive corruption and human rights violations in the country. In Pakistan breaking news often first comes on citizen journalism platforms and not on mainstream media. YouTube has helped spread stories of human rights abuses, such as extra-judicial killings, and corruption, so from that perspective these channels are very important.” These issues have been highlighted in some of the artwork for the Access Is My Right! campaign.

B4A - Our Tube   B4A - YouTube Ban
These Access Is My Right! campaign posters highlights why the ban on YouTube violates the principles of right to information and freedom of expression.

In June 2013, research by the Citizen Lab in conjunction with B4A found that filtering software developed by the Canada-based company Netsweeper is deployed on a network operated by Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited, Pakistan’s largest telecom company and operator of its Internet Exchange Point. Netsweeper is used for national level filtering that restricts access to content with political and social themes, including websites related to human rights, sensitive religious topics, and independent media. This development is significant because of the possibility that such censorship will be extended to lower-level ISPs in the country.

B4A has actively campaigned against Pakistan’s national filtering system since its proposal in 2012. Recently, it has raised concerns over Netsweeper filtering technology in the country. B4A submitted Citizen Lab’s Netsweeper research to the Lahore High Court as well as all relevant UN Special Mandate holders. The Access Is My Right! campaign has been used to raise public awareness about Netsweeper in Pakistan.

B4A - O Pakistan   B4A - Netsweeper
Access Is My Right’s Netsweeper campaign posters

Access Is My Right! also draws attention to B4A’s work around promoting privacy rights in Pakistan. In 2013, The Citizen Lab found evidence of two FinFisher command and control servers in Pakistan. FinFisher is a “governmental IT intrusion” software that can exfiltrate data, intercept e-mail and instant messaging communications, and spy on users through webcams and microphones. Although the presence of FinFisher command and control servers in the country does not necessarily imply that Pakistani government agencies are operating it, its presence is alarming given Pakistan’s lack of strong privacy laws and data protection legislation.

B4A - FinFisherAccess Is My Right’s FinFisher campaign poster illustrates how surveillance technologies violate the right to privacy.

B4A submitted a writ petition to the Lahore High Court, expressing concerns over increasing threats to citizen privacy, absence of individual protections and the violations of basic human rights granted by the country’s constitution, while questioning the existence of FinFisher in the country.This effort resulted in the court ordering the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to investigate the use of FinFisher in Pakistan.

Access Is My Right! has garnered significant support, with the campaign posters being shared across social media sites. To learn more about the campaign, visit:


The Cyber Stewards Network Speak Out on PRISM

In June 2013, news broke out in media outlets around the world of a secret program operated by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) regarding the collection of information directly from several major U.S. Internet companies. The program, referred to as “PRISM”, involves data collection on a large scale from phones, streams of Internet traffic, and content stored by Internet companies. Despite denials by major Internet companies of their complicity with the NSA regarding this program, leaked reports have also indicated the agency paid millions of dollars to major technology companies to cover the costs of the program.

The revelation of the NSA’s PRISM program has raised concerns around the world over potential harms to online privacy. As the program’s efforts are directed primarily at non-American citizens, it is clear this is an issue of global concern, especially considering the dependence so many Internet users have worldwide on products and platforms developed by U.S. based companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.

In a CNN op-ed Ron Deibert, (Director, Citizen Lab) suggested that the revelation of the program’s existence will ultimately prove detrimental to Internet freedom. Authoritarian regimes may now cite PRISM as an excuse to tighten and restrict Internet access for their citizens while simultaneously engaging in a digital arms race to offset the United States’ intelligence capabilities. Deibert explained that it is incumbent on the United States to fully “consider the international implications” of actions done by government agencies in the pursuit of domestic security. In a separate article on the use of metadata by security agencies, Deibert also emphasized the need for citizens to ask the “big questions about the appropriate checks and balances of security agencies in a liberal democratic society as we undergo such a profound Big Data revolution.”

Partners in the Cyber Stewards Network have joined the chorus of voices speaking out against the program and its implications on domestic safeguards for data protection across the world. Alberto Cerda, International Program Director of Chilean NGO Derechos Digitales, wrote in an op-ed that the “violation of fundamental rights has a global character. What good is it for me to be protected in Chile if it’s actually the US government that’s violating my rights?” Derechos Digitales has cautioned users to be mindful of what content they upload on any network.

Ramiro Alvarez Ugarte, Director of Access to Information for Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, has also suggested that the PRISM revelations should force netizens in countries outside of the US—such as his native Argentina—to look at the powers that domestic intelligence agencies wield, especially where governmental oversight of these organizations is lacking. Ugarte has also participated in discussions on privacy rights in Argentina with other like-minded organizations in the context of the PRISM revelations.

The PRISM revelations have encouraged other Stewards to advocate for greater knowledge on data protection techniques. Lobsang Gyatso Sither of the Tibet Action Institute has placed increased emphasis on the use of encryption technology in his own everyday work and when training Tibetans on practices for securely transmitting sensitive information. Nathan Freitas, Director of the Guardian Project (an initiative to develop secure mobile applications) and  a member of the Tibetan Action Institute, expressed concern that the disclosure of the United States’ surveillance activities will erode the “moral high ground” from which the country has pressured the Chinese government to curtail its own digital spying.

The PRISM controversy is one of many issues involving surveillance that is part of the global campaign for Internet freedom and the freedom of citizens from unwanted privacy violations. ‘Gbenga Sesan, CEO of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria has warned of the dangers to citizens of increased government surveillance in the context of the Nigerian government’s multi-million dollar contract with Elbit Systems. Pakistani organization Bytes for All has also submitted a court petition challenging the use of the FinFisher software suite in the country.

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria Seeks Information on Surveillance Systems in Nigeria

Recent research from The Citizen Lab has detected the presence of devices capable of surveillance on networks operated by Nigerian Internet service providers. In January 2013, Citizen Lab researchers found installations of Blue Coat Systems’ PacketShaper device on netblocks associated with IPNX ISP and Cobranet. In April 2013, Citizen Lab released “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” in which researchers identified FinFisher servers on a network operated by Suburban Telecom.

The Nigerian government’s procurement of Internet surveillance capabilities attracted local media attention on April 25, 2013, when the Premium Times reported that President Goodluck Jonathan had awarded a USD 40 million contract to Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that markets itself as an “international defense electronics company.” One day earlier, Elbit Systems announced in a press release that it would supply its “Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) System for Intelligence Analysis and Cyber Defense,” a device tailor made for digital data collection and reportedly capable of harvesting network traffic, to “a country in Africa.” Premium Times’ sources within the Jonathan administration confirmed that the country in question was Nigeria.

‘Gbenga Sesan, a Cyber Steward Network partner and Executive Director of the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) called attention to the issue on Twitter by highlighting Section 38 of the Nigerian Budget Office’s 2013 Appropriation Act, which clearly detailed that the Nigerian government had allocated N 4,312,479,720 (USD 27.6 million) to the “Wise Intelligence Network Harvest Analyzer System,” in addition to similarly large allocations toward an “Open Source Internet Monitoring System” and a “Personal Internet Surveillance System.”

On May 6, 2013, PIN filed a Freedom of Information (FoI) request with the Nigerian government regarding the USD 40 million Internet surveillance contract to Elbit Systems. The FoI filing requested that the government provide details of the process through which the contract was awarded and any information that could shed further light on the substance of the contract itself.

As of May 23, 2013, President Jonathan was reportedly considering the option of canceling the contract with Elbit Systems and had convened a meeting with the company’s management to discuss their potential breach of confidentiality in publishing the initial press release.  However, the government failed to respond to PIN’s FoI request, and the group subsequently applied for an order of mandamus through the Federal High Court in Abuja. In response to the request, Federal High Court Justice Gabriel Kolawole asked the National Assembly to amend Nigeria’s 2011 Freedom of Information Act to henceforth bar unjustified requests for information. In a press release, PIN challenged the High Court’s dismissal and called on the National Judicial Institute to address the issue. As of September 2013, PIN’s lawyers have filed an appeal against Justice Kolawole’s ruling and are awaiting a response.