Tag Archives: Pakistan

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper interviews Shahzad Ahmad regarding cybercrime legislation

Pakistani newspaper DAWN interviewed Shahzad Ahmad, a Cyber Stewards Network partner and director of Bytes for All. Ahmad spoke on the topic of cyber crime in Pakistan, in particular regarding a new bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015 (PECA), which has been criticized as violating Pakistan’s commitments to universal human rights standards.

Shahzad Ahmad told Dawn that he was disappointed with the government’s failure to make citizens a part of the process when drafting the bill. “Unfortunately, our incumbent government has shown a tendency to discuss, debate and implement critical legislation behind closed doors. In practice, what this means is that those who’ll be affected by this new legislation are kept out and their voices shunned,” he said.

Ahmad called for the government to establish Privacy Commissioners to oversee the government’s handling of this issue, given that judicial oversight has been ineffective or simply absent. He noted that this would be a critical step towards ensuring that everyday citizens are engaged with cyber crime issues and related policies, and reducing the likelihood of enforcement agencies misusing authority. In addition, Ahmad explained that as a signatory to the United Nations convention on human rights, Pakistan needs to establish a national human rights institution, which would serve as a body that can receive and remedy citizen complaints.

Read the full article.

 

Bytes for All convenes 2015 Pakistan Cyberspace Conference

The 2015 Pakistan Cyberspace Conference, a two day conference (February 26-27) hosted by Bytes for All, convened government officials, human rights activists, media professionals, and business leaders to discuss a range of issues related to cyberspace in Pakistan. The conference sought to encourage government officials to formulate informed policy on cyberspace issues, in light of input from civil society and business leaders.

Panel discussions focus on five topics, including “The Media and the Internet: Opportunities and Obstacles” and “Surveillance, Privacy  and the State Security Narrative in Pakistan.” Deibert weighed in on the panel entitled “Cyber Warfare: A New Battleground,” moderated by Shahzad Ahmad, Director of Bytes for All, and includes speakers such as Mushahid Hussain Syed, the Chairman of the the Pakistani Senate Standing Committee on Defence; Ammar Jafri, the Chairman of Cyber Security Task Force of Pakistan; Aamir Atta, the editor of ProPakistani.com; and Quratulain Zaman, an author with Global Voices. Panelists discussed the possible shaping of online space into a new battleground for military, intelligence and corporate agencies.

When asked about ways in which the global community is responding to increasingly invasive technology based surveillance, Ahmad offered the example of evidence-based public interest litigation. In particular, Ahmad cited Citizen Lab research revealing the presence of FinFisher Command and Control servers in Pakistan [PDF], which in turn prompted legal action by Bytes for All.

Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert was also in attendance, and delivered a keynote address outlining how online censorship in Pakistan has been used to suppress political dissent and free speech. In the same vein, he explained that governments throughout the world have had “backdoors” built into major telecommunications companies for easy access to consumer information. Deibert concluded his remarks in the keynote by placing emphasis on the fact that “for a truly open, free, [and] secure cyberspace, individuals and societies will actively have to strive for it.”

Read more about the 2015 Pakistan Cyberspace conference, including attendees and schedule. A live Twitter feed of the conference can be found on Bytes for All’s Twitter account.

Media Coverage: Daily Times.

Bytes for All hits snags in FinFisher court hearing

A public interest litigation case launched by Cyber Stewards Network partner Bytes For All (B4A)  at the Lahore High Court has been met with obstacles during court proceedings.

B4A began the proceedings using research conducted by the Citizen Lab, documented in the report titled “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying.” The research revealed the presence of FinFisher on the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) Network, the largest telecommunications provider in Pakistan. The court action by B4A alleged that the presence of FinFisher servers in Pakistan may violate constitutional rights against breaches of privacy, given the software’s ability to use trojans to access the information of users.

Despite a court order to look into the matter and produce a report in one month, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has repeatedly failed to do so. Six court hearings have been missed or cancelled by order. Questions remain as to who is using the FinFisher server in Pakistan, how it came to be implemented without public inquiry, and how much government funding has been employed for its purchase.

 

Cyber Steward Shahzad Ahmad Wins Freedom of Expression Award

Cyber Steward Shahzad Ahmad, Director of Bytes for All (B4A), has won the Doughty Street Advocacy Award as part of Index on Censorship’s 2014 Freedom of Expression Awards. The award was given on March 20, 2013 during the award ceremonies at the Barbican Centre in London. Ahmad was nominated in the advocacy category which recognizes activists fighting for free expression around the world. Ahmad recently appeared in a video developed by Index on Censorship speaking of the work he and B4A have performed promoting digital rights and monitoring censorship in cyberspace. In his acceptance speech, Ahmad recognized B4A’s role as part of a movement “to educate, and raise people’s awareness of their digital rights” and to “continue to provide the knowledge and language that can empower everyone to participate in this dialogue, in our country and globally, as technology evolves.”

Index on Censorship is a global organization headquartered in the United Kingdom dedicated to promoting free expression and combating censorship. For 14 years, the Freedom of Expression Awards have recognized prominent activists, journalists, writers, and other advocates for free expression around the world. These advocates include Pakistani women’s education activist Malala Yousafzai, whistleblowing organization Wikileaks, and Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat.

Ahmad’s leadership as director of B4A has led to the creation of many remarkable campaigns promoting digital rights and free expression. B4A has filed several court petitions to combat censorship and surveillance in Pakistan, including their campaign to overturn the ban on YouTube and to investigate the use of commercial surveillance software FinFisher in the country. In 2013, the organization received an Avon Communications Award for their “Take Back the Tech” campaign, developed to empower women in the use of online technology and to raise awareness on gender-based violence. Despite facing many personal and professional challenges, Ahmad has demonstrated an impressive commitment to promoting free expression in Pakistan and is a highly deserving recipient of this award.

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.

B4A files suit against UK government

Cyber Stewards Network partner Bytes for All (B4A) is working together with Privacy International (PI) to sue the government of the United Kingdom over their Tempora surveillance program. Tempora is the code name for a project initiated by Britain’s signal intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It allows for access by the GCHQ to cable networks passing through the UK, including phone and Internet traffic. The massive amount of data collected through this program is also made available to GCHQ’s American counterpart, the National Security Agency.

B4A and PI have argued that the Tempora program violates the European Convention on Human Rights’ privacy safeguards. They also argue that the program directly violates the limits of lawful surveillance outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which regulates the power of British authorities in conducting surveillance. Another major criticism is that it “discriminate[s] against non-UK nationals,” meaning that they “currently receive even fewer legal protections than the communications of those who reside in the UK,” even though the cables monitored by the GCHQ carry a significant amount of international web traffic. B4A highlighted their own organization as an example of how the program disproportionately targets foreign nationals. As some of B4A’s Internet traffic goes through the UK, especially traffic routed through Virtual Private Networks based in Great Britain, their communication is liable for interception and monitoring. Given the sensitive nature of their human rights work in Pakistan involving confidential correspondences with lawyers, NGOs, public officials, partner organizations, and other stakeholders, B4A sees the potential for scrutiny by foreign intelligence agencies as particularly alarming.

The case has been lodged with the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal based on an earlier suit lodged by PI over the Tempora program. The suit is asking that the program be made illegal and that the GCHQ destroys all unlawfully obtained material. B4A has lodged similar complaints in Pakistan regarding secret surveillance programs. In May 2013, the organization lodged a petition with the Lahore High Court asking the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, to investigate the presence in Pakistan of FinFisher, a commercial surveillance software. In October 2013, B4A initiated a contempt of court charge against the government for not appearing in court to address the petition.

 

Update on Bytes for All Censorship and Surveillance Cases

In January 2013, Cyber Steward partner Bytes for All (B4A) submitted a petition to the Lahore High Court to challenge Internet censorship in the country. This case, in collaboration with the Media Legal Defense Initiative, a non-governmental organisation which helps journalists and independent media outlets around the world defend their rights, highlighted the ongoing censorship of YouTube in Pakistan. The popular video-sharing site has been blocked since 2012 since YouTube refused to remove the controversial anti-Islamic “Innocence of Muslims” video.

After months of deliberations, the Lahore High Court has decided to move the case to a larger bench presided by three or five judges, a move B4A sees as indicating how serious the stakes of the petition are, as cases presided by a full bench of judges “carry greater weight in terms of judgment.” B4A pledges to pursue the case as a constitutional issue and hopes for the speedy end to the blocking of YouTube in Pakistan. Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Pervaiz Rashid stated recently that the government is not interested in prolonging the YouTube ban and that Pakistanis “will hear good news soon.” Rashid then clarified that the ban will be overturned only after the installation of filters to block blasphemous and other objectionable content online. Last year, the Pakistani Ministry of Information Technology called for bids on a national URL filtering system. Research by the Citizen Lab found that filtering products produced by Netsweeper, a Canadian company, have been installed on the networks of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), the country’s largest telecommunications corporation.

B4A is also initiating a contempt charge against the government for not appearing at court in regards to the ongoing FinFisher petition. The court ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, to investigate FinFisher’s presence in Pakistan. The petition also asks for accountability from other corporate and government entities, including the Federation of Pakistan, through the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Information Technology, and the Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL).FinFisher, a product advertised as “governmental IT intrusion” software, is marketed and sold to law enforcement and intelligence agencies by the UK-based Gamma Group.  Research conducted by the Citizen Lab on the presence of FinFisher found the software present in 36 countries across the globe, including 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.