DIGITAL PAKISTAN MONITOR – February 2023
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. 2 – February 2023 Edition
Produced by Freedom Network – www.fnpk.org
SECTION 1: Internet and digital policies and regulations
- Federal and provincial governments (ministries and departments)
- Internet regulators
- Media regulators
- Telecom regulators
- Internet access / connectivity
Date: February 7, 2023 – Source: Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Amin-ul-Haq said that the federal government was executing 20 optic fiber cable network projects worth Rs16.3 billion in Sindh to improve digital connectivity.
Date: February 13, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
State authorities and stakeholders in Pakistan’s telecommunication sector should strategize to utilize these challenging times to prepare for 5G connectivity by enabling and facilitating infrastructure building and reducing costs.
Date: February 16, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Jazz Aamir Ibrahim said that the rollout of 5G, which is the fifth-generation standard for broadband cellular networks, in Pakistan should be put on hold. Rather, telecommunication operators should ensure blanket coverage of 4G connectivity for all consumers.
Date: February 21, 2023 – Source: The News
A survey carried out by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) revealed that while Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) were compliant with respect to uploads and download speed to a great extent, network latency and webpage loading time remained below threshold.
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
- Misinformation / disinformation / fake news
Date: February 2, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Wikipedia’s downloading speed slowed down after the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) downgraded the platform’s services for two days because it had not complied with orders to ‘block/remove sacrilegious content’.
Date: February 3, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Attempts to police the internet by states, often by giving opaque justifications for the action, are never a good idea. Moreover, blocking sites does not do much to encourage the growth of the digital economy in Pakistan.
Pakistan blocks Wikipedia access citing ‘sacrilegious content’
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocked access to Wikipedia’s services after their refusal to comply with orders relating to the removal of sacrilegious content on their platform.
Date: February 5, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Federal Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication should work to improve the information technology sector. There must be no legal avenue to block entire digital platforms such as Wikipedia.
Wikipedia’s foundation urges Pakistan to restore access
Wikimedia Foundation, the hosting platform for Wikipedia’s online services, urged the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to restore access to their platform and Wikimedia-sponsored digital projects in the country.
Date: February 5, 2023 – Source: The News
It will not be an understatement to say that as a state Pakistan has a special fondness for banning things: websites, publications, events, films. In its latest attempt, the country has chosen to deny its citizens access to the world’s largest free encyclopedia.
Date: February 6, 2023 – Source: Digital Rights Monitor (DRM)
Pakistan’s civil society, technology organizations and educational institutions released a joint statement condemning Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) decision to block access to Wikipedia services in the country.
Lahore High Court allows PTA to block websites sharing ‘objectionable material’
While hearing a petition, the Lahore High Court (LHC) allowed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block/restrict access to websites sharing ‘objectionable material’.
Prime Minister orders restoration of Wikipedia services
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to immediately restore access to Wikipedia services across Pakistan, days after it was blocked for failing to remove ‘sacrilegious content’.
Government bars regulator from blocking access to websites without consultation
The federal government barred the Pakistan telecommunication Authority (PTA) from blocking access to any website without consulting the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.
Date: February 13, 2023 – Source: The News
Pakistan’s government needs to realize the futility of censoring the internet. Even if one website is banned for objectionable content, that same content can be reproduced on an indefinite number of other online platforms.
PTA launches cyber-security platform for telecommunication sector
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) launched a centralized platform, the National Telecom Security Operations Center (NTSOC), to counter and repel cyber-attacks on the country’s telecommunication infrastructure.
Date: February 15, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
Members of the federal cabinet were divided over introducing new legislation stipulating a crackdown on social media activists involved in ‘defaming the armed forces and judiciary’. Some cabinet members suggested that punishments should also be applied to those involved in ‘defaming parliamentarians’.
Pakistani court sentences man for online smear drive against armed forces
A sessions court in Faisalabad handed down a maximum jail term of three years among other sentences to a supporter of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in a case of launching a smear campaign against the armed forces on social media.
Date: February 18, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Google removed 14 digital applications from its play store service at the request of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), which officially took up the matter with the Alphabet-owned technology company regarding the breach of personal data of Pakistani residents.
Date: February 22, 2023 – Source: Dawn
TikTok held its first-ever event in Pakistan as it launched the Safety Ambassadors Program (SAP) to create awareness about digital safety and sustainable innovation across its content creators.
President for developing cyber strength to counter Indian disinformation campaign
President Dr Arif Alvi said India’s disinformation campaign against Pakistan must be countered through ‘cyber strength’ as he urged the youth to look beyond traditional options when choosing a profession.
SECTION 4: Digitalization
- Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
- Digitalization in social and development sectors
- Digitalization in business and commercial sectors
Date: February 3, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Pakistani telecommunication operators criticized the federal government for pegging license renewal to the United States dollar, describing it as the biggest threat to the information and communications technology industry, and demanded that the government must revisit the policy.
Rupee devaluation hits Pakistan’s telecommunication industry hard
Pakistan’s telecommunications declared that pegging their license renewal fee to the United States dollar and massive devaluation of Pakistani rupee had jeopardized their business plans and pose an ‘existential threat’ to their operations.
Pakistan fastest growing applications market based on downloads in 2022
According to a report compiled by Data Darbar, the number of digital applications downloaded by Pakistanis in 2022 rose by 35.4 per cent compared to the preceding year, making the country the fastest-growing applications market in the world.
Date: February 5, 2023 – Source: Business Recorder (BR)
The World Bank’s (WB) Board of Executive Directors are set to consider the ‘Pakistan: Digital Economy Enhancement Project’ worth $78 million in March 2023. The project aims at enhancing the government’s capacity for digitally-enabled public services delivery.
Date: February 7, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) surrendered Rs303 billion to the country’s Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF), making it the fund’s largest contributor compared with other regulatory bodies.
Date: February 15, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial hinted at making available the transcript or live-streaming of court proceedings, when he said the matter would be taken up in the full court meeting of all Supreme Court judges to forestall any chance of inaccuracies in court reporting.
Date: February 17, 2023 – Source: The News
Digital technologies in Pakistan could create up to Rs9.7 trillion in economic value by 2030, if they are fully leveraged. There is an urgent need for the telecommunication sector to get fiscal space and support to continue investing in and modernizing Pakistan’s digital infrastructure.
OBJECTIVES: This 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 SOURCES: This 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.