DIGITAL PAKISTAN MONITOR – January 2021

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. 2, No. 1 January 2021 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

Government in talks for integrated wired services license renewal

Date: January 2, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The federal government continued its negotiations with the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) for the renewal of its integrated wired services license for a period of 25 years.

Universal Service Fund awards fiber cable contracts to improve connectivity in Pakistan

Date: January 5, 2021 – Source: Dawn

The Universal Service Fund (USF) awarded two Optic Fiber Cable (OFC) project contracts worth Rs3 billion to the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) for providing broadband and landline connectivity in Ghotki, Kandhkot-Kashmore, Sukkur and Khairpur districts.

Governments asks social media websites to set up offices in Pakistan

Date: January 6, 2021 – Source: The News

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that popular social media websites had been asked to set up their offices in Pakistan.

Federal regulator renews integrated telecommunication license for 25 years

Date: January 14, 2021 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Express Tribune, Source 3: Daily Times

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) formally approved the renewal of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited’s (PTCL) integrated license for the next 25 years.

NGMS spectrum to improve broadband services in Pakistan

Date: January 15, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Federal Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh pinned his hopes on the release of Next Generation Mobile Services (NGMS) spectrum to improve broadband services and further economic growth in Pakistan.

Citizens struggle with internet connectivity in Pakistan

Date: January 18, 2021 – Source: Dawn

As the Covid-19 pandemic shows few signs of dissipating, policymakers should take note of the internet connectivity struggles of citizens particularly in the peripheral regions of Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan and the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Government approves first digital policy for Balochistan

Date: January 19, 2021 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune, Source 3: Urdu Point

A meeting of the Balochistan provincial cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Jam Kamal approved the first digital policy of the province for the year 2020-2021. Under the policy, digital policy, e-governance, public access to digital services, provision of cheap and high-speed internet facility is on the cards.

Pakistan to get 5G connectivity by 2022-23

Date: January 24, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Pakistan kick-started its journey to make the most advanced 5G internet commercially available to consumers in 2022-23, which would accelerate the download speed 10 times to one gigabit per second and widen economic activities significantly in the country.

Federal government softens stance on new social media rules

Date: January 26, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that the federal government had agreed to review its new social media policy amid protests by various stakeholders.

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

Confronting the gendered digital divide in Pakistan

Date: January 10, 2021 – Source: The News

The global endeavors to bridge the gendered digital divide indicate the need for more efforts at grass roots level in Pakistan. While prioritizing education and training for girls is a responsibility of the state, it also requires efforts made on humanitarian basis and through philanthropic projects.

Media Matters for Democracy concerned over WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

Date: January 11, 2021 – Source: Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD)

Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD) expressed concerns on the new privacy policy brought forth by the instant messaging application WhatsApp, and the ‘false choice’ presented to the users to acquire their consent to share data with its parent company Facebook Incorporated.

Ending the era of technological ‘have-nots’ in Pakistan

Date: January 23, 2021 – Source: Dawn

Pakistan is at the gateway of a great opportunity of integrating our educational, technological and industrial policies. Authorities must ensure that the post Covid-19 era does not inculcate a new generation of technological ‘have-nots’ in the country.

Freedom Network welcomes decision to review new social media rules

Date: January 25, 2021 – Source: Freedom Network (FN)

Freedom Network (FN) welcomed the decision by the federal government to review ‘controversial’ new social media and internet regulations in Pakistan after negotiations with various stakeholders.

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

Task force constituted to curb cybercrimes against children in Pakistan

Date: January 5, 2021 – Source: The News

Taking cognizance of the perpetual increase in cases of cybercrimes against children, the Wafaqi Mohtasib formed a high-level task force to evolve a holistic plan to curb such offences by addressing systemic issues through short, medium and long-term measures.

Space for dissent on social media under pressure in Pakistan

Date: January 7, 2021 – Source: The News

Social media has to some extent tried to make up for the loss of conventional space available for voicing dissent. However, it is now under pressure given the constant initiation of suppressive digital content laws in Pakistan.

Blasphemy on social media: Terrorism court puts three on death row in Pakistan

Date: January 9, 2021 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune, Source 3: Al Jazeera

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sentenced three accused to death for their involvement in uploading blasphemous content on social media and jailed another for 10 years along with Rs100,000 for disrespecting the religion.

Post-arrest bail plea of man in child pornographic content case dismissed

Date: January 9, 2021 – Source: Dawn

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) rejected a post-arrest bail application of a man charged with disseminating child pornographic content of social media.

Federal Investigation Agency’s Cybercrime wing disposed of 100,000 complaints in 2020

Date: January 12, 2021 – Source: The News

The Cybercrime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) disposed of more than 100,000 complaints during 2020.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority starts reviewing WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

Date: January 13, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) initiated its review of the new privacy policy issued by social messaging platform WhatsApp.

Data protection bill sent to law ministry for vetting

Date: January 16, 2021 – Source: The News

After completing deliberations with stakeholders, the Personal Data Protection Bill 2020 was sent to the Federal Ministry of Law and Justice for vetting purposes.

Freedom Network condemns comments by PM’s Focal Person on Digital Media

Date: January 17, 2021 – Source: Freedom Network (FN)

Freedom Network (FN) condemned comments made by the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media Khalid Arsalan terming hate campaigns against journalists as unequal to ‘online harassment’.

Federal ombudsman forms panels to fight cybercrime against children in Pakistan

Date: January 20, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The newly formed task force of the Federal Ombudsman decided to constitute two subcommittees to take specific actions for effectively curbing growing cybercrime against children in Pakistan.

New investigative report studies impacts of online violence against women journalists in Pakistan

Date: January 20, 2021 – Source: Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD)

According to a new report published by Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD), women journalists in Pakistan most frequently identified online violence, including online harassment, trolling, and coordinated abusive campaigns as the main factor behind limiting their personal expression.

Federal regulator blocks website in Pakistan

Date: January 23, 2021 – Source: The News

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocked the website www.trueislam.com for viewership in Pakistan on basis of posting unlawful content.

Police detain two TikTokers over video brandishing weapons

Date: January 28, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Police arrested two TikTok users and registered cases against them in Lahore on charges of brandishing and using weapons in videos posted on the video-sharing platform.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority deletes 750 links of blasphemous content

Date: January 29, 2021 – Source: Dawn

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) deleted more than 750 links of blasphemous content of a movie from social media platforms in Pakistan.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocks over 981,000 links over ‘prohibited’ content

Date: January 30, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) submitted a report in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) stating that it had block around one million digital links on the internet containing ‘prohibited’ content.

SECTION 4: Digitalization

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

Central Depository Company launches Pakistan’s first financial technology platform

Date: January 2, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The Central Depository Company (CDC) launched Pakistan’s first financial technology platform allowing masses to compare and invest in various mutual funds with the aim of enhancing the share of mutual fund asset class.

Federal Bureau of Revenue allows online filling of tax appeals

Date: January 3, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) allowed taxpayers to electronically file appeals against its tax related decisions amid a steady increase in the number of return filers.

Wars in the digital age

Date: January 3, 2021 – Source: The News

Digitization underwrites the revolution in military affairs. It has changed how wars must be fought in this age. While artificial intelligence has increased efficiency in decisions, it has also complicated the process and increased uncertainty.

Digital payments and startup financing to lead technology wave in Pakistan

Date: January 4, 2021 – Source: Dawn

Experts suggested that growth in digital payments and technology startup financing will lead the technology wave in Pakistan in 2021.

In wake of pandemic, Pakistan embraces digitization in 2020

Date: January 5, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

An increased number of businesses and people in Pakistan turned to remote working and digital payments in wake of pandemic restrictions during 2020. Stakeholders remain positive that digitization will rise steeply in the following years revolutionizing working dynamics in the country.

The last mile: Digital financial inclusion in Pakistan

Date: January 8, 2021 – Source: Dawn

Failing to incorporate branchless banking is negating much of the efforts for financial inclusion for Pakistan. It is important that authorities make use of the current technology push and enhance efforts towards linking users with digital banking.

Pakistan launches special technology zones authority

Date: January 9, 2021 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Dawn, Source 3: Pakistan Today

Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the special technology zones authority that envisages comprehensive duty and tax incentives for a period of 10 years to local and foreign investors.

170,000 people trained in artificial intelligence in Pakistan

Date: January 11, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training said that the government trained 170,000 individuals in the field of artificial intelligence during the last 18 months.

Prime Minister unveils Pakistan’s first digital payment system

Date: January 12, 2021 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Dawn, Source 3: The Nation

Addressing the launch of Pakistan’s first digital payment system ‘Raast’, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the government was striving hard to replace Pakistan’s cash-based economy into a digital one.

Tax contribution from the telecommunication sector jumps 129% in Pakistan

Date: January 16, 2021 – Source: The News

Telecommunication sector’s contribution to Pakistan’s national exchequer jumped 129 percent to Rs287 billion in fiscal year 2020 compared to Rs121 billion in fiscal year 2019 largely due to an unprecedented spike in the usage of services during virus restrictions.

‘Raast’ offers hope for Pakistan’s digital finance sector

Date: January 17, 2021 – Source: Dawn

Raast, Pakistan’s first digital payment system, should be publicized as a public good as it is a tool for financial empowerment, growth and inclusion for citizens across the country.

Educational boards’ records to go online in Pakistan

Date: January 19, 2021 – Source: Dawn

The Inter-Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) decided to make all educational boards record online and computerized to create ease for attestation of documents.

Data portal on Pakistan’s financial indicators launched

Date: January 20, 2021 – Source: The News

Karandaaz Pakistan launched a state-of-the-art online data portal with aggregated data on financial services and selected socioeconomic indicators for the country.

Sales tax imposed on 17 information technology services in federal capital

Date: January 23, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

The federal government imposed a five per cent sales tax on more than 17 digital and information technology services in the Islamabad Capital Territory.

Raast – Pakistan’s first optimal digital payment experience

Date: January 26, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Pakistan marked the beginning of 2021 with a digital leap forward following the launch of Raast – Pakistan’s first instant payment system that enables end-to-end digital payments among individuals, businesses and government entities.

Establishment Division issues official email addresses for employees

Date: January 29, 2021 – Source: The News

The Establishment Division (ED) created official email accounts for all bureaucrats falling under its jurisdiction and introduced a dedicated email domain.

Government on track to pursue ‘Digital Pakistan’ goal

Date: January 29, 2021 – Source: Dawn

Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Sued Amin Ul Haq said that the government’s goal of a ‘Digital Pakistan’ was coming to life and his ministry was playing a proactive role in developing a conductive environment for Pakistan’s ever-changing technological needs.

Pakistan’s first digital content creators platform secures $2 million funding

Date: January 29, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune

Rinstra, Pakistan’s first digital platform for content creators, managed to secure Series A funding of $2 million. The platform is now valued at over $20 million.

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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.
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