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, 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.