Tag Archives: Netsweeper

Updates on Bytes for All and the “YouTube Case”

Bytes for All (B4A) is continuing its battle at the Lahore High Court against Internet censorship in Pakistan. The court case has highlighted the ongoing censorship of YouTube in Pakistan, a result of the video sharing site’s refusal to block the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video. B4A is pursuing this case in collaboration with the Media Legal Defense Initiative, a non-governmental organisation that supports the rights of journalists and independent media around the world.

On March 13, 2014, the nineteenth session of the hearing began with a statement presented on behalf of Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, who was unable to personally appear before court due to unspecified security concerns. The statement cited the Supreme Court order to censor the “Innocence of Muslims” video as the basis for blocking all of YouTube and clarified that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) lacks the capability to filter specific pages. The statement also revealed that the government was attempting to obtain censorship technology similar to that used by the Chinese and Saudi Arabian governments. Past research has shown both Saudi Arabia and China censor Internet traffic heavily. B4A’s legal counsel argued against the practicality of any form of Internet censorship and stated that the blocking of YouTube had given the controversial video more publicity due to the curiosity aroused by the government’s ban. Despite the expectation that the court would make a decisive verdict regarding the case, the hearing concluded with an adjournment for a later date.      

During the eighteenth session of the case on March 11, 2014,  the presiding judge Justice Mansoor Ali Shah noted that Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered only the blocking of the “Innocence of Muslims” video and not all of YouTube. Justice Shah also emphasized the value of YouTube as an educational platform.  Minister Rehman did not attend this session as well, the fourth time he has failed to do so since being summoned to appear in person before the court.

B4A has been fighting to overturn the censorship of YouTube in Pakistan since January 2013 when the organization filed a petition challenging the legality of Internet censorship. B4A has long promoted free expression and digital rights through projects such as “Access is My Right,” a campaign developed to raise awareness around issues such as Internet censorship, digital rights, and freedom of expression in Pakistan. B4A has also assisted the Citizen Lab in researching the presence of filtering products developed by Canadian technology company Netsweeper  in Pakistan.

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: http://www.accessismyright.pk.

 

Netsweeper in Pakistan

In June 2013, Citizen Lab released O Pakistan We Stand on Guard for Thee, a research report that reveals evidence that Internet filtering software developed by Canada-based company Netsweeper is deployed on networks operated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL). PTCL is a formerly government-owned enterprise that currently serves as Pakistan’s largest ISP and the manager of its Internet Exchange Point. Previous research by the OpenNet Initiative indicated that Netsweeper is being used for national-level filtering in India and across countries in the Middle East and Gulf including Qatar, UAE, Yemen, India.

Bytes for All (B4A) has actively campaigned against Pakistan’s national filtering system since the proposal’s inception in 2012. More recently, B4A has raised concerns over the role of Netsweeper’s filtering technology in aiding the Pakistani’s government’s Internet censorship regime. B4A Country Director Shahzad Ahmad argues that censorship in Pakistan has over time shifted toward targeting “secular, progressive, and liberal voices” and that “anything can be banned without debate.” A number of media outlets and non-governmental organizations have spread these concerns, including Reporters Without Borders, Reuters, and Pakistan’s The Express Tribune.

Other organizations such as Bolo Bhi and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have similarly protested against Internet censorship in the country. On July 3, 2013, Bolo Bhi Director Sana Saleem sent a letter to the High Commissioner for Canada in Islamabad urging the Canadian government to stand by its commitment to free expression and to assist the organization in demanding answers from Netsweeper regarding the company’s presence in Pakistan.

The High Commission responded by stating that “Canada expects Canadian companies working overseas to abide by the laws of those countries, and to act in accordance with applicable Canadian laws, ethical standards, and corporate social responsibility best practices.” The letter, signed by High Commissioner Greg Giokas, also stated that it was the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to manage the use of information technology “in accordance with local law.” In response, Bolo Bhi reiterated its request that the Government of Canada assist them in seeking information on Netsweeper’s sale of filtering technology to the Pakistani government.