A monthly report on trends relating to digital rights, policies, practices & media

Tracking: Internet and digital policies and regulations 

Digitalization in governance and socio-economic domains

Digital rights violations and protections

Digital rights advocacy and defense 

Digital media and online free speech

Vol. 4, No. 12  December 2023 Edition

Produced by Freedom Network – 

SECTION 1: Internet and digital policies and regulations 

  • Federal and provincial governments (ministries and departments)
  • Internet regulators 
  • Media regulators
  • Telecom regulators
  • Internet access / connectivity

PTCL poised to acquire Pakistan operations of Norwegian telecommunication firm 

Date: December 14, 2023 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

In a major consolidation of the telecommunication sector, the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) entered into a Share Purchase Agreement (SPA) with the shareholders of Telenor Pakistan (Private) Limited for the acquisition of 100 percent shares for Rs108 billion. 

Social media disruption in Pakistan mar PTI’s online gathering 

Date: December 18, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

Internet monitor Netblocks reported a nationwide disruption in accessing social media platforms in Pakistan amid an ‘online political gathering’ organized by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). 

Why have foreign telecommunication players chosen to exit Pakistan?

Date: December 23, 2023 – Source: The News

Highlighting the regulatory risk exposure, Telenor Group, in its Annual Report 2022, noted that its Pakistan unit continues to be subject to arbitrary assessments and unpredictable tax regulations. 

SECTION 2: Digital rights advocacy and defense

  • Pakistan-based citizens and civil society organizations
  • Independent international digital rights organizations
  • UN and global multilateral organizations
  • Governmental and other sources

SECTION 3: Digital rights violations and protections

  • Citizens and netizens – including case studies
  • Media, journalists and other information practitioners
  • Online free speech 
  • Online access to information
  • Privacy violations
  • Data protection
  • Surveillance
  • Misinformation / disinformation / fake news
  • Cybercrime

Pakistan’s global advocacy on AI regulation

Date: December 3, 2023 – Source: The News

Given that Pakistan wants to take on the role of an advocate for ethical and equitable artificial intelligence on the global stage, it must make non-discrimination and compliance with international human rights frameworks the focus of its advocacy.  

PTI’s social media sway on judiciary wanes under Chief Justice Isa

Date: December 3, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), over the years, wielded influence over the superior judiciary through its social media campaigns – the once-effective strategy that appears to have lost its traction during the tenure of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa. 

Islamabad High Court seeks report from spy agency on audio leaks

Date: December 8, 2023 – Source: Dawn

After an audio clip featuring a purported conversation between former first lady Bushra Bibi and her lawyer Latif Khosa was leaked on social media, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) sought a report from the director general (DG) of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) regarding the matter. 

PML-N wary of PTI’s social media dominance

Date: December 8, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is wary of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) dominance on social media platforms, but it asserted that it may not have an impact on the general elections, which will be contented ‘on the ground’. 

Government to set up cybercrime investigation agency

Date: December 14, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The caretaker federal cabinet approved the establishment of the National Cybercrime Investigation Agency (NCIA). The agency was dedicated to investigating cybercrimes, taking over the mandate that was previously with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Cipher trial coverage banned as hearings deemed in-camera

Date: December 15, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The Special Court (Official Secrets Act) conducting the trial of former prime minister Imran Khan and ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi barred the coverage of its proceedings on all mainstream media outlets, as well as social media. 

Internet freedom

Date: December 19, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The hour has come for officialdom to recognize that its actions are beginning to remind citizens of police states. Frequent internet bans, a long-favored coercive practice that reeks of a refusal to embrace modernity, has triggered the frustration. 

Unplugged nation

Date: December 19, 2023 – Source: The News

There seems to be a vast disconnect between policymakers in Pakistan and tech-savvy people. Otherwise, there is no logical explanation for the fact that every few months the Pakistan government decides to shut off the internet or goes into denial mode when users complain of limited connectivity. 

Most child abuse stuff uploaded on social media from India

Date: December 20, 2023 – Source: The News

A report issued from European police headquarters (EUROPOL) revealed that the highest number of images and films of child abuse on social media was uploaded from India, while three Islamic countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia – took third to fifth slot in the list. 

Intelligence agencies not allowed to tap audio conversations, government tells IHC

Date: December 21, 2023 – Source: Dawn

Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that the federal government had not permitted any intelligence agency to tap audio conversations. 

PTA warns citizens against fraudulent links on WhatsApp, social media

Date: December 23, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) issued special instructions to the people about fraudulent links on WhatsApp and social media, advising them to remain vigilant and only use official platforms for services. 

Islamabad High Court summons IB, FIA heads in audio leaks case

Date: December 24, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) summoned director generals of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in connection with an audio leaks case as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) expressed its inability to trace the source of leaked audio recordings. 

Pakistani spy agency blames ‘ordinary hackers’ for audio leaks

Date: December 27, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) indicated that ordinary individuals or hackers could be responsible for audio leaks involving politicians, judges and their relatives, among others. 

Audio leaks case: Several tools available to intercept audio calls, IHC told

Date: December 27, 2023 – Source: The News

The defense ministry, in its written reply, told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that inexpensive tools with the ability to intercept audio calls were readily available in the Pakistani market. 

SECTION 4: Digitalization 

  • Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
  • Digitalization in social and development sectors
  • Digitalization in business and commercial sectors

Pakistan’s digital freelancers to get interest-free loans

Date: December 7, 2023 – Source 1: Radio Pakistan (RP), Source 2: Express Tribune

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication announced an initiative of offering interest-free loans to digital freelancers to empower professionals and enable them to establish e-working centers, which will address the critical challenge of inadequate workplaces. 

Supreme Court of Pakistan to share recorded proceedings on its website

Date: December 9, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune

The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) decided to release recorded proceedings of cases on its website, marking a significant shift towards transparency in its operations, instead of broadcasting them live. 

FBR puts in place single portal committee

Date: December 23, 2023 – Source: The News

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) constituted the Single Portal Committee (SPC) to operationalize arrangements required for the filing of sales tax returns of the telecommunication sector. 

PTCL revises monthly tariff for landline, broadband connections

Date: December 23, 2023 – Source: The News

The Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) revised its monthly tariff for landline and broadband connections, with an increase of 10 percent expected from January 2024. 


OBJECTIVESThis series of monthly report aims to:

  • Track developments revolving around the framework of digitalization in Pakistan including policy and advocacy on digital rights, policy enforcements and digital rights violations, covering viewpoints of government, civil society, human rights community including digital rights campaigners, media, citizen journalists and other information practitioners, and regulators of electronic media, internet and telecom sectors, and netizens.
  • Monitor the interface between digital rights and Pakistan’s overall legal framework and how developments around them impact freedom of expression and access to information online as well as diversity and pluralism in Pakistan’s digital landscape, cyberspace and internet domains. 
  • Follow developments around the themes of digital rights, freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, surveillance, data protection, access to internet services, telecom policies, etc. 

INFORMATION SOURCESThis report monitors, among others, the following sources of information:  

  • Government: Federal and provincial cabinets
  • Ministries: Related ministries, including Information and Broadcasting, Information Technology (IT) and Telecom, Human Rights, Science and Technology, Commerce and Industry, etc. 
  • Legislatures: Senate, National Assembly, provincial assemblies, relevant standing committees  
  • Regulators: Pakistan telecommunications Authority (PTA), Pakistan Electronic Media regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Press Council of Pakistan (PPC), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), etc. 
  • Global organizations: UN/Unesco, International Media Support (IMS), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), etc. 
  • National organizations: Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), BoloBhi, Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), etc.
  • Media: Dawn, The News, Express Tribune, The Nation, Pakistan Today, The Friday Times, etc. 
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Local networks: Journalists Safety Hubs Network, Alliance on Diversity & Pluralism in Media, etc. 
  • Research groups: Gallup Pakistan, IPSOS Pakistan, etc.

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