Islamabad, November 14, 2014: Digital Rights Foundation organized country’s first National Conference on privacy rights and digital surveillance today in Islamabad. The focus of this national conference was to start a debate around the lack of legislation and laws pertaining to cyber space with a focus on privacy. During this conference, Waqas Mir, a lawyer from Lahore having expertise in constitutional laws and free speech, presented a comprehensive whitepaper on surveillance in Pakistan. This whitepaper took the audience and readers through the history and development of legislation around privacy and surveillance in the country with a focus on recently drafted Fair Trial Act 2013.
DRF in partnership with Privacy International and Freedom Network organized this event to bring together members from all stakeholders including lawyers, parliamentarians, journalists, civil society, and the public to create a serious and continuous debate around having a consistent approach between surveillance and privacy. Multiple panels and session talks were held discussing global and local perspectives of surveillance in the digital age. Panelists also talked about solutions that could be employed taking examples from other countries world over while going over the case studies where common citizens, journalists, feminists, and dissidents at large have been harassed and attacked.
Senator Afrasiab Khatak, former member of National Assembly Bushra Gohar, and Ben Wagner, international expert on export of surveillance technologies were also part of the panels among other distinguished speakers. The conference concluded by recommending public to use their Right to Information more assertively and frequently and by demanding government to ensure transparency and publish annual report on the number of warrants granted for surveillance, and the number of offences prevented by surveillance or interception of information.
The key points that were raised during this national conference on privacy and surveillance include:
- Growing concerns over tools / mechanisms employed by government especially after FinFisher’s license expiry in 2013
- Concerns shared by the journalism community over how surveillance has negatively impacted the standards of journalism in the country
- Urgent need of legislation around digital security to safeguard citizens
- Understanding of government’s need to employ legal surveillance in the face of serious terrorism threats, however, with strict definitions of ‘national security’ and ‘national threats’ while being proportionate to citizen’s privacy
- The need to rethink the process of creating the laws putting protection before punishment and not the other way around
- Palpable urgency felt to have a strong relationship between activists and political parties on privacy and surveillance concerns
National conference on surveillance this year tried to gear start the debate around privacy and surveillance in the country. However, it will be furthered by the support of stakeholders and will be held annually to create a strong network producing tangible results and putting forward suggestions for the government.
– End –
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a research based advocacy organisation based in Pakistan focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on ground and online. We firmly believe that freedom of speech and open access to online content is critically important for the development of socio-economy of the country. @digitalrightsPK