Digital Pakistan Monitor – May 2024

Digital Pakistan Monitor – May 2024 – 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. 5, No. 5  May 2024 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

PSCA expands free Wi-Fi service to 100 points in Lahore

Date: May 5, 2024 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

The Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) expanded its free Wi-Fi internet service from 50 to 100 points in Lahore. The service is available for the convenience of citizens in emergency situations. 

Reduced competition: CCP concerned over PTCL’s takeover of Telenor

Date: May 7, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) observed that the takeover of Telenor Pakistan by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) would reduce the industry’s competitive environment. 

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

Welcome to the summer of artificial intelligence

Date: May 20, 2024 – Source: The News

By actively working to bridge the digital divide, we can ensure that all students, regardless of their socio-economic background, have the opportunity to benefit from the educational advancements artificial intelligence (AI) offers. 

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

Clampdown on non-filers: FBR orders blocking of 0.5 million SIM cards

Date: May 1, 2024 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

The Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) issued legally-binding instructions to the relevant departments to block mobile phone connections of over half-a-million non-filer citizens, as its campaign to voluntarily register retailers did not yield encouraging results. 

Government focusing on new body to combat online misinformation

Date: May 3, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said the government was focusing on forming a separate authority to safeguard the digital rights of citizens and counter propaganda and rumors on social media.

FBR move to block SIM’s of non-filers hits snags amid reluctance of telecommunication firms

Date: May 3, 2024 – Source: The News

The Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) has not yet been able to convince the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and telecommunication operators for blocking mobile connections of over 0.5 million non-filer citizens within the deadline of 15 days. 

FBR’s move to block mobile connections placed under scrutiny by PTA 

Date: May 3, 2024 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Pakistan Today

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said it would review the Federal Bureau of Revenue’s (FBR) order to block cellular phone connections of those who did not file tax returns for the year 2023 before deciding. 

Federal Investigation Agency busts online drug racket in Islamabad

Date: May 3, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested two suspects after tracing their online operations of the sale and distribution of banned and unregistered drugs in Islamabad. The FIA also identified online pharmacies that were involved in the sale of such unregistered drugs. 

PTA seeks review of tax agency directive to block SIMs of non-filers

Date: May 5, 2024 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Arab News

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) took exception to a directive by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) seeking to block mobile connections of over 500,000 non-filer citizens, saying the move is counter-productive and can attract litigation. 

Islamabad High Court threatens contempt for agency heads in audio leak case

Date: May 5, 2024 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: The News, Source 3: Express Tribune

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued preliminary contempt notices to the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for seeking recusal of a judge hearing a case related to surveillance of citizens ‘with mala fide intent’.

SIM disabling order falls flat on government’s face

Date: May 5, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

The federal government’s legal order to disable mobile connections of over half a million non-filers of the income tax returns fell flat on its face when the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) refused to implement it on the grounds that the order was inconsistent with the legal framework. 

Mass SIM blocking ‘not feasible’, warn Pakistan’s telecommunication operators

Date: May 7, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Pakistan’s telecommunication operators collectively forwarded their concerns to the Federal Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication that the Federal Bureau of Revenue’s (FBR) decision to block SIMs of non-filer citizens was made in undue haste and will adversely impact the industry. 

Consensus eludes FBR, telecommunication operators over blocking of SIMs

Date: May 8, 2024 – Source: The News

In their discussions, the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) and cellular mobile operators (CMOs) failed to break impasse over blocking of 0.5 million mobile connections registered to non-filer citizens.

Four leaked audios mention ‘playing with cipher’, FIA tells Islamabad High Court

Date: May 9, 2024 – Source: The News

The Federal Investigation Authority’s (FIA) special prosecutor told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in the cipher case that there were leaked audio clips of four people, including former prime minister Imran Khan, on the internet, in which there was a mention of ‘playing with the cipher’.

Islamabad High Court questions credibility of e-evidence in cipher case

Date: May 9, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) raised several questions about the authenticity and credibility on the material available on the internet, while hearing appeals of former prime minister and foreign minister Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi against their conviction in the cipher case. 

GSMA concerned over SIM blocking in Pakistan

Date: May 10, 2024 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune

GSMA, the international body representing telecommunication operators, expressed concerns over the Federal Bureau of Revenue’s (FBR) decision to block cellular connections of individuals not appearing on the active taxpayer’s list for 2023. 

Cellular operators agree to block SIMs

Date: May 11, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Telecommunication operators agreed to initiate the manual blocking process in small batches of non-filer citizens, ending the week-long standoff over the implementation of the tax machinery drive to broaden the tax base.

FBR shares data of 10,000 non-filers with PTA, telecommunication operators

Date: May 12, 2024 – Source: The News

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) shared two batches of 10,000 non-filer citizens with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and cellular mobile operators (CMOs) but the blocking of SIMs could not be kick-started. 

Non-filers feel the heat as 3,500 SIMs blocked

Date: May 12, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

Telecommunication operators blocked mobile phone SIMs of over 3,500 non-filers of the 5,000 cards they had promised to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) they would in line with its Income Tax General Order (ITGO) – a move aimed at compelling 506,671 individuals to place on record their tax returns. 

Islamabad High Court restrains FBR from blocking SIMs of non-filer individuals

Date: May 15, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued a stay order, restraining the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) from its move to block cellular connections of individuals absent from the active taxpayers’ list. 

Justice Sattar claims he was told by top officials to back off from ‘scrutinizing’ audio leak

Date: May 15, 2024 – Source: The News

Justice Babar Sattar wrote a letter to formally inform the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Aamer Farooq about the ‘meddling’ by the security establishment in judicial affairs, claiming he was asked by ‘top officials’ to stop scrutinizing audio leaks.

Audio leaks case: Government pushes back on claims in letter leak

Date: May 15, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

The government pushed back against ‘meddling’ claims made by Justice Babar Sattar in his letter addressed to the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Aamer Farooq, forcing Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan to offer explanatory statements.

Joint working group formed to block non-filers’ SIMs

Date: May 18, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) constituted an 18-member joint working group (JWG) with three main telecommunication operators to continue the manual blockage of non-filers, effectively ending the deadlock over implementing the tax machinery’s effort to widen the tax base. 

Government decision to block SIMs of non-filer individuals still in effect, clarifies IHC

Date: May 23, 2024 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Associated Press of Pakistan (APP)

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) clarified that the stay order it earlier issued was not on blocking cellular connections of non-filer individuals but solely on acting against the petitioner, private telecommunication operator Zong.

Punjab CM orders making prisons’ cybersecurity foolproof

Date: May 23, 2024 – Source: The News

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz chaired a meeting on prison reforms and ordered beefing up cyber security protocols for the province’s prisons. 

Telecommunication operators block over 9,000 SIMs on FBR’s orders

Date: May 23, 2024 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Pakistan Today

A spokesperson of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) said over 9,000 cellular connections registered to non-filer individuals had been blocked by telecommunication operators on the board’s orders. 

Curbs can’t beat narratives

Date: May 26, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The battle of narratives is won in the long run by holding one’s nerve and developing a counter-narrative, which resonates with the popular will. Bringing in draconian curbs is akin to conceding a walkover to the opponent, particularly when there are signs of array in one’s own camp. 

Over 7,000 people file tax returns to get cellular connections unblocked

Date: May 30, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) claimed that as many as 7,167 individuals had filed their returns for the tax year 2023 after their mobile SIMs were blocked.

Army vows to quell ‘digital terrorism’

Date: May 31, 2024 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR), Source 3: The Print

The military’s top brass noted that planners, perpetrators, and facilitators of the May 9 riots ‘need to be brought to justice for the collective good of the country’ and expressed willingness to act against ‘politically motivated and vested digital terrorism’. 

SECTION 4: Digitalization 

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

Google to establish 50 AI-equipped smart schools in Pakistan

Date: May 1, 2024 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Arab News

Google announced plans to establish 50 smart schools in Islamabad, equipped with 30,000 Google for Education IDs, including features such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital tools for enhanced collaboration and productivity.

Ride-hailing application Uber quits Pakistani market

Date: May 1, 2024 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: The Financial Express

After nearly eight years of trying its luck in Pakistan, ride-hailing application Uber, quit Pakistan’s online transportation market, creating further market space for its subsidiary Careem.

Tech-based solutions, changes to laws proposed to rein in street crime in Karachi

Date: May 6, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Current and former officials of law enforcement agencies were of the opinion that rising street crime in Karachi could be reduced by using technology, profiling criminals, implementing the safe city project and carrying out amendments to existing laws that often result in grant of bail to repeat offenders. 

Government to digitally train 1.8 million Pakistani teachers

Date: May 6, 2024 – Source: The News

The federal government launched a program aimed at digitally training, and certifying 1.8 million teachers, along with millions more who will join the workforce in the next decade. 

Punjab CM urges early deals for ‘IT City’ in Lahore

Date: May 8, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz ordered early finalization of deals with Chinese, South Korean and Saudi Arabian companies for the construction of the Information Technology (IT) City in Lahore. 

Pakistan’s first moon satellite enters its orbit

Date: May 9, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Pakistan’s inaugural lunar satellite, iCUBE-Q, achieved a significant milestone by successfully entering the moon’s orbit, as confirmed by the Institute of Space Technology (IST). 

Digital transformation: Pakistan, World Bank to prepare partnership strategy

Date: May 9, 2024 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Express Tribune

Pakistan and the World Bank (WB) agreed to collaborate on a new Country Partnership Framework (CPF) to carry forward the country’s digital reforms and development agenda.

CDA team meets Punjab IT board chief to discuss land record digitization

Date: May 10, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The management of Capital Development Authority (CDA) held a meeting with Chairman of Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and his team to discuss digitalization of CDA and Islamabad Capital Territory’s (ICT) land records. 

Pakistan’s satellite sends first images from space

Date: May 11, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Pakistan’s maiden lunar satellite iCUBE-Qamar transmitted the first images from orbit after it successfully completing three rounds of the moon.

Digitalization of Pakistan’s tax system discussed

Date: May 11, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) held a meeting with representatives from the Ministry of Finance and financial consulting firm Karandaaz to discuss ways to implement steps for digitalization of the tax system. 

Space ambitions

Date: May 12, 2024 – Source: The News

Pakistan’s first lunar satellite entered the orbit after being launched aboard a Chinese rocket. The iCube-Qamar will likely send images and help Pakistani scientists learn more about moon’s little-explored far side. 

Between the moon and sceptics

Date: May 12, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

Pakistanis tend to lament how the country lags behind when it comes to science and research. And yet, many of us don’t quiet understand the hard work and incremental steps it takes to build capability and expertise domestically. 

Prime Minister believes mobile application can ensure transparent wheat purchase

Date: May 14, 2024 – Source 1: Radio Pakistan (RP), Source 2: Express Tribune

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif directed authorities to develop a mobile phone application to ensure transparency in the annual wheat procurement process. 

CDA’s move to convert ‘ladies club’ into information technology park gains mileage

Date: May 15, 2024 – Source: Dawn

As it proceeds with the plan to convert a proposed ‘ladies club’ into an information technology (IT) park in Islamabad, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) held an ‘open house’ on the premises to unveil its vision for a dedicated information technology park in the federal capital.

Supreme Court allows former PM to appear in court via video link

Date: May 15, 2024 – Source: Express Tribune

The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) granted permission to former prime minister Imran Khan to appear in the court via video link in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law amendments case. 

Bank Islami launches priority banking services for digital freelancers, IT exporters

Date: May 16, 2024 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

Bank Islami (BI) announced the opening of its exclusive Priority Banking Lounge (PBL) for digital freelancers and information technology (IT) exporters as a free work space. The initiative is aimed at providing such individuals with a working environment to collaborate and network. 

Pakistan, US agree to boost cooperation in IT, telecommunication sector

Date: May 16, 2024 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Pakistan Today, Source 3: Business Recorder (BR)

United States Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome expressed the desire to broaden cooperation with Pakistan in the information technology (IT) sector, noting the country’s immense potential for growth in the digital economy. 

Punjab CM advances education reforms with major technology initiatives

Date: May 16, 2024 – Source: The News

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz sought the monthly schedule of education reforms five-year plan, approving purchase of 32.298 computer tablets for heads of the province’s primary schools. 

PTA to impose new fee on local cellphones

Date: May 17, 2024 – Source: The News

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) decided to impose a new fee of Rs120 on the manufacturing of each new mobile phone handset in Pakistan. 

Pakistan to unveil indigenous biometric solutions in Cape Town

Date: May 19, 2024 – Source: Dawn

In collaboration with the National Radio and Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC), a NADRA-owned company is scheduled to unveil two cutting-edge indigenous biometric solutions at a technological conference in South Africa. 

Capital police make e-driving licensing system operational

Date: May 19, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Islamabad Capital Police (ICP) said its e-driving licensing system has become fully operational after removal of technical issues. With the help of this e-system, citizens will be able to apply online and easily obtain their licenses. 

Punjab CM orders digitization of land records

Date: May 19, 2024 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz directed essential steps to be undertaken for the digitization of all land records in the province. 

From downloads to dollars

Date: May 20, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Not too long ago, you would hear boomers blaming everything wrong in society on mobile phones. This was before they signed up on Facebook and started receiving fake news on WhatsApp and become one of the largest demographics for these products.

SUPARCO to launch PAKSAT satellite  

Date: May 22, 2024 – Source: Dawn

The Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) announced the launch of the country’s multi-mission communication satellite PAKSAT MM1 from the XiChang Satellite Launch Center in China. 

Prime Minister seeks Chinese expertise to promote IT industry, boost exports

Date: May 25, 2024 – Source: The News

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Pakistan wanted to benefit from Chinese experiences to promote its information technology (IT) sector and boost exports. 

Telecommunication companies launch call, data packages for Haj pilgrims

Date: May 26, 2024 – Source: Dawn

Despite the availability of pre-activated cellular connections for Haj pilgrims, telecommunication firms in Pakistan launched competitive one-month cellular and data packages that would cost less than options currently offered by Saudi Arabian operators. 

ADB expert wants Pakistan to cut its reliance on foreign artificial intelligence solutions

Date: May 26, 2024 – Source: Dawn

In response to an emailed query, Digital Technology Expert at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) ByeongJo Kong expressed concern at Pakistan’s potential over-reliance on foreign artificial intelligence (AI) solutions given the slow pace of developing indigenous ones. 

Redefining taxation in the digital age

Date: May 31, 2024 – Source: The News

Taxation on digital payments at merchant locations needs rationalization to promote digital over cash transactions. Reliance on cash fosters tax evasion as well as the informal economy, hindering Pakistan’s digital economy ambitions. 


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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