DIGITAL PAKISTAN MONITOR – July 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. 3, No. 7 – July 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
USF awards Rs6.8 billion contract to provide Sibbi with high-speed broadband services
The Universal Service Fund (USF) awarded a contract worth Rs6.8 billion to Ufone for providing high-speed broadband services in Balochistan’s Sibbi district and along the 800-kilometer M-8 motorway.
Federal cabinet approves two bills related to cyber security
The federal cabinet approved two bills relating to cyberspace – the Personal Data Protection Bill 2023 and the E-Safety Bill 2023. It is the view of the government that the existing regulators such as the PTA and PEMRA have been unable to scrutinize or regulate social media and online media spaces.
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
Date: July 28, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Pakistan would be better off creating a conducive environment for technology and social media companies to operate rather than arm twisting them into sharing user data and censoring content in violation of international human rights law.
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
Twitter ‘relocates’ users in Gilgit-Baltistan to Indian-held Kashmir
Twitter seems to have blocked access to the government of Pakistan’s official account in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and ‘relocated’ the region’s location to parts of Indian-held Kashmir. Users complained that their tweets sent from the region are now marked as originating from India.
Prime Minister denounces social media campaign against army chief
Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif condemned a social media campaign pertaining to ‘assassinating’ Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Syed Asim Munir, saying that the people involved were ‘brainwashed’ in a similar manner like those who were involved in the May 9 riots.
Date: July 11, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) denied the ‘relocation’ of Twitter access and geographical-positioning of government of Pakistan’s official account in Gilgit-Baltistan to Indian-held Kashmir.
Date: July 14, 2023 – Source: Dawn
TikTok announced giving more powers to parents, allowing them to curate the content viewed by their children and filter out what they deem inappropriate. The new filter feature is designed to ‘prevent content with mature or complex themes from reaching users between the ages of 13 and 17 years.
Date: July 14, 2023 – Source: The News
To counter dissemination of fake news and online propaganda, the federal government decided to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016 and instructed relevant ministries to study the law for this.
Lahore High Court declares analysis of phone data without court sanctions ‘illegal’
The Lahore High Court (LHC) ruled that spying on or extracting data from the personal mobile phone or tablet devices of an individual or a suspect was unconstitutional and illegal except with the permission of the court.
Date: July 16, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Pakistan’s lack of data protection laws and incoherent cybercrime policy has resulted in gangs of scammers preying on the digital illiteracy of the masses. The country needs a digital policy that deals with legislation pertaining to cybercrimes, technology and digital scams.
Date: July 16, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
Twitter users were recently nonplussed when the geographical-tag showed their location to be in India and they were denied access to Government of Pakistan’s official account. This mysterious ‘glitch’ raises concerns about the vulnerability of Pakistan’s digital airspace and the need for robust cyber policies.
Date: July 19, 2023 – Source: Himal
The mainstream media in Sunni-dominated Pakistan habitually obscures or erases violence against marginalized communities, including Shias. In response to media’s blinkered coverage, activists from persecuted groups have set up different digital initiatives document violence against their communities.
Date: July 22, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
Video-sharing platform TikTok removes 11,707,020 videos uploaded on its platform from Pakistan for violating its community guidelines in the first quarter of 2023.
Blasphemy case registered against five members of WhatsApp group
The Arifwala City Police booked two administrators and three members of a WhatsApp group under section 295 (A) of the Pakistan Penal Code on the complaint of a member of the District Peace Committee (DPC) for alleged blasphemy and posting religious hatred material online.
Date: July 25, 2023 – Source: Dawn
The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) received 75 complaints from journalists and media practioners regarding online harassment, threats and hacking attempts during 2022. The complainants included 40 males, 34 females and one trans person.
Pakistan ranked third in the world for imposing internet restrictions
According to Surfshark, a virtual private network company, Pakistan is ranked third in the world over the imposition of internet restrictions in the first half of 2023.
Date: July 27, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Two new pieces of legislation are expected to have a wide-spread impact on the digital rights of individuals and Pakistan’s digital economy. International bodies expressed concerns over the draft data protection law, fearing that it will raise the cost of doing business in Pakistan.
Date: July 28, 2023 – Source: Dawn
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) referred the ‘controversial’ Facebook posts of a judge hearing the Toshakhana case to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as the defendant, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeks transfer of the judge.
Date: July 28, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Two bills, aimed at bringing under state control online media and digital platforms – the last remaining spaces where Pakistanis can still freely express themselves – are an attempt by the state to shut down ridicule and criticism it has lately been receiving online.
Date: July 31, 2023 – Source: Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) was moved through a writ petition against the non-consensual practice of uploading photos of under-trial suspects on social media platforms. The petition is based on the settled principle that an accused is presumed innocent until declared guilty by court.
SECTION 4: Digitalization
- Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
- Digitalization in social and development sectors
- Digitalization in business and commercial sectors
Meta, State Bank of Pakistan join hands to digitally empower women
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) partnered with Meta – the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – to digitally empower 500 women entrepreneurs and other high value small businesses under a new joint-initiative named ‘The Digital Bridge: Advancing Financial Inclusion for Pakistan’.
Date: July 22, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Pakistan’s response to ChatGPT should not be coercive. It should focus on an educational landscape less susceptible to Artificial Intelligence (AI) abuse. This requires learning orientation and value judgements of learners to determine whether AI is effective or a negative influence.
Date: July 22, 2023 – Source: The News
The Prime Minister’s Public Affairs and Grievances Wing officially established accounts on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to provide easy access to grievance redressal to the Prime Minister’s Complaints Cell.
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.