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Web Monitoring System! People’s Rights Must be Respected, At Least Introduce Safeguards If Surveillance Is To Be Carried Out

It is imperative that the public’s interests and rights are respected and upheld when the government is undertaking measures that impact citizens directly, said Usama Khilji in an article published by DAWN about internet surveillance.

Discussing the reports of government installing the Web Monitoring System (WMS), the writer said the system being installed by PTA covers everything – from monitoring, analysing and curbing grey traffic to ensure national security, measurement and recording of traffic, call data record, and quality of services “as specified by the PTA”.

But if surveillance is to be carried out, there should at least be safeguards against abuse and there should be concrete steps to ensure veracity of the claim made by PTA that it is not “intended to curtail freedom of use of internet by legitimate users”.

There are already some serious issues. For example, there is no opportunity for an appeal and review for those whose websites or online content have been blocked under Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.

Also, oversight is missing in almost every matter in Pakistan and the WMS isn’t an exception – no mention of due process and judicial oversight. If surveillance is to be carried out to protect national security, there should at least be safeguards against the abuse of this process in the form of a warrant being issued by a competent court.

Meanwhile, data protection and right to privacy is also ignored amid the current onslaught in the form of censorship and social media campaigns against journalists as well as human rights groups.

There are serious questions about the company – Sandvine Inc – supplying the technology. It is a US-based entity and NSA is already infamous for internet surveillance.

Also read: Does state even understand what freedom of speech means?

Sandvine was one of the five companies that had confirmed its intent not to apply for a tender for Pakistan’s URL filtration system for censorship, and the company’s stance was celebrated in several reports as a case study of a business standing up for human rights.

Lastly, it is the people have every right to know how the system will function given that it is they who pay the telecom companies millions for the services being provided and these entities in turn contributing funds to the government for deploying the monitoring system.


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