DIGITAL PAKISTAN MONITOR – October 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. 10 – October 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
Date: October 1, 2021 – Source: The News
The Balochistan government directed all provincial officials to set the caller tune of their mobile handsets to ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. A list of numbers of different mobile operators was provided through which they can get their caller tune changed.
Date: October 12, 2021 – Source: Dawn
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) announced that internet access to users in Pakistan was disrupted as a submarine fiber optic cable developed a fault near the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Date: October 12, 2021 – Source: The News
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa said that the federal government plans to launch 5G connectivity services and technology in the country soon.
Date: October 13, 2021 – Source: Digital Pakistan (DP)
Three mobile service operators were issued with next generation mobile services licenses to operate in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Government issues rules for removing, blocking unlawful online content in Pakistan
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication notified new social media rules allowing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block any website or platform on the directives of court and federal government or under any law.
Date: October 14, 2021 – Source: The News
Federal Minister for Information technology and Telecommunication Syed Amin-ul-Haq said that under the new social media rules, the promotion of ‘immoral and obscene’ content on social media would be considered a felony punishable by law.
Date: October 16, 2021 – Source: Associated Press of Pakistan (APP)
Federal Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said that the Rehmatul-lil-Alameen Authority will keep check on the spread of ‘vulgar and blasphemous’ content published on social media platforms.
Date: October 19, 2021 – Source: Dawn
Jazz Pakistan signed a telecommunication license renewal agreement with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) amid a case the cellular company had filed against the telecom sector regulator over the same issue.
Sindh High Court directs government to formulate cryptocurrency regulation
The Sindh High Court (SHC) ordered the federal government to regulate cryptocurrencies within three months and formed a committee headed by the federal finance secretary to look over the matter.
Date: October 22, 2021 – Source: The News
The Sindh High Court (SHC) constituted a committee under the supervision of deputy governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to consider if any form of cryptocurrency is to be permissible under Pakistani law.
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: October 3, 2021 – Source: Associated Press of Pakistan (APP)
The rapid digitalization across Pakistan is transforming everything from the economy to government-citizens’ interaction. It is important that state authorities plan to enlarge the spectrum of digital transformation by taking initiatives to modernize the country’s age-old interaction systems.
Date: October 16, 2021 – Source: Dawn
Despite serious reservations of digital rights activists and technology companies, the federal government steamrolled its way to notify amended but still draconian social media rules. The new rules would increase regulatory power and require social media companies to open designated offices in Pakistan.
Date: October 16, 2021 – Source: Dawn
The utility of social media as the last fortress of citizens to express themselves with relative freedom has been commented on ad infimum as the state announced new social media rules to curtail on the rights to freedom of speech.
Date: October 16, 2021 – Source: The News
Once the new social media rules come into effect, they will have binding effects on social media companies offering their services to Pakistani consumers. These rules also infringe upon the constitutional rights of citizens as guaranteed by Article 19.
Date: October 16, 2021 – Source: Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD)
Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD) found the recently notified draft of Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules concerning and maintained that despite rounds of consultation, the ‘amended’ rules failed to address legitimate concerns.
Date: October 18, 2021 – Source: Dawn
While it is not yet evident what impact Covid-19 will have on closing the digital gender gap, it is clear that state authorities must urgently prioritize women’s access to technology and accelerate digital literacy.
Date: October 19, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune
As governments and the private sector around the world ramp up investments in digital technology to better reach young people, Pakistan must also commit to take concrete actions to bridge gender and socio-economic digital divides so technology advances rights, choices and opportunities for women.
Date: October 30, 2021 – Source: Dawn
A report titled ‘Regulatory Repressions Amid Pandemic: State of Digital Media Freedoms in Pakistan 2021’ documented how Pakistan slipped with lower points on digital freedom and highlights a range of reasons behind this shrinking of freedoms.
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
Date: October 1, 2021 – Source: Dawn
Federal Minister for Finance Shaukat Tarin informed the National Assembly that on average the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) portals were subjected to 71,000 cyber-attacks every month. He also revealed plans for continuous investment to protect government-operated digital finance platforms.
Date: October 7, 2021 – Source: Dawn
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested two suspects in Lahore for their alleged involvement in uploading child pornographic material on social media platforms and foreign websites.
Date: October 14, 2021 – Source: Dawn
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) launched its flagship booklet on cybercrime and requested the education ministry, universities and other educational institutions to make it a compulsory part of their syllabi.
Date: October 15, 2021 – Source: Business Standard
Under new social media rules announced by Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Technology, the federal telecommunication regulator will be empowered to block any website or platform on the directives of court, federal government or under any law.
Date: October 15, 2021 – Source: Dawn
With 9.85 million videos removed, Pakistan ranked second in the world for the largest number videos taken down from the video-sharing platform TikTok over violation of community guidelines during April-June 2021.
Date: October 21, 2021 – Source: Dawn
It is in Pakistan’s economic interest to allow journalists and media workers – foreign and local – to move around freely to sift and report facts as the country’s weak investor sentiment cannot bear the burden of the avalanche of disinformation on mainstream and social media.
Prime Minister urges effective gatekeeping on online pornography
Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to make sure than an effective mechanism was in place to block online obscene and pornographic material.
Date: October 24, 2021 – Source: Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
The Federal Ombudsperson launched a countrywide awareness drive to educate masses about cybercrimes against women and children on the directive of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Islamabad High Court declares banning of TikTok as violation of constitutional rights
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) said that the ban on video-sharing platform TikTok appears to be a violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to satisfy the court about justification for the ban.
Federal Investigation Agency cracks down on proscribed outfit’s social media accounts
The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing (CCW) launched a crackdown on the proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) social media accounts on charges of uploading hate-inciting content and doctored images.
National Bank hit by outages in cyber-attack
The state-owned National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) said it was responding with urgency to a cyber-attack on its services that failed to steal funds or any consumer’ data but affected the bank’s services and consumer facilitation.
SECTION 4: Digitalization
- Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
- Digitalization in social and development sectors
- Digitalization in business and commercial sectors
Date: October 3, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune
Pakistani startups remain high on global investors’ radar having raised a record $305 million in initial and advanced level financing from across the world in the first nine months of 2021.
Date: October 4, 2021 – Source: Dawn
For Pakistan to increase its digital services exports, the most critical thing is a professionally trained information technology workforce. Every 100,000 trained professionals can bring in an additional $2-3 billion in remittances per year.
Date: October 9, 2021 – Source: Associated Press of Pakistan (APP)
President Dr Arif Alvi said that it is important for Pakistan to focus on the digital empowerment of its citizens to benefit from the economic advancements of the information technology sector.
Date: October 10, 2021 – Source: Associated Press of Pakistan (APP)
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) Dr Sania Nishtar said that the Ehsaas Digital Portal had been launched to facilitate disadvantaged citizens knowing their eligibility and procedure to apply for various pro-poor government initiatives.
Date: October 12, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune
President Dr Arif Alvi stressed on the need for Pakistan’s information technology sector stakeholders to bring their systems on par with global standards besides ensuring blanket data security.
Date: October 15, 2021 – Source: Digital Pakistan
Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to launch the Kisan Portal for farmers under the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal initiative. The portal would facilitate the redressal of problems faced by farmers across the country.
State Bank issues directive for digitizing corporate payments in Pakistan
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) directed its regulated entities, including banks, microfinance banks, and payment system providers, to offer digital channels of payment to their corporate clients in Pakistan.
Date: October 17, 2021 – Source: The News
Social media platforms give a voice to affected communities in an emergency and empowers them. They also improve the process of accountability of state authorities and humanitarian agencies by facilitating people to instantly raise voices against any injustice and point out flaws.
Date: October 21, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune
The Sindh High Court (SHC) struck down the federal excise duty (FED) of 75 paisas on every phone call of over five-minute duration and declared the levy as unconstitutional. The court’s verdict also settled the federal and provincial governments’ domain in taxing telecommunication services.
Date: October 21, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune
The federal government decided to introduce an ordinance to provide an online power of attorney facility for overseas Pakistanis. Once implemented, overseas Pakistanis will not have to visit embassies or government offices in this regard and will be able to avail this facility online.
Date: October 27, 2021 – Source: Digital Pakistan (DP)
E-Pay Punjab facilitation application was downloaded over 928,000 times and managed to collect Rs50 billion in revenue through digital channels for the provincial government.
Pakistani startups raise $300 million
While addressing the Pakistan Tech Summit in Istanbul, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz said that Pakistani startups managed to raise $300 million in seed funding in the first ten months of 2021.
Date: October 31, 2021 – Source: Express Tribune
Market factors such as growth of e-commerce platforms and attractive promotions from sellers and digital payment facilities will continue to help Pakistan’s digital transactions sector grow. Regulators, however, need to ensure that this growth is equitable.
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.