DIGITAL PAKISTAN MONITOR – May 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. 5 – May 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
Date: May 9, 2023 – Source: The News
Free internet in Pakistan remains a distant dream as published by Bytes For All (BFA) in a report that placed Pakistan 118th and 150th out of 140 states in terms of mobile internet speed and fixed broadband speed respectively.
Mobile internet services suspended across Pakistan to ‘quell mob violence’
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed all four cellular companies – Jazz, Zong4G, Telenor and Ufone – to suspend data service across the country to counter mob violence that erupted after Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan was arrested in Islamabad.
Access to social media platforms restricted in Pakistan
Access to social media platforms in Pakistan was restricted to stop dissemination of fake news and counter protests that broke out following the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan.
Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Al Jazeera
Millions of Pakistani food delivery drivers, online service providers and students relying on the internet for revenue generation and education have been hit hard by the government’s decision to suspend mobile internet services across the country.
Government urged to restore internet as shutdown disrupts lives
Citizens and businesses urged the federal government to restore mobile data services, insisting that its absence was leading to great economic costs, affecting millions of citizens who have come to rely on the internet for everything from earning a living to paying bills.
Internet suspension in Pakistan: Telecom operators, government suffer significant loss
The suspension of internet services in Pakistan resulted in an estimated revenue loss of Rs820 million for telecommunication operators, while the government lost around Rs287 million in tax revenue. Individuals who depend on digital applications also suffered a significant loss in earnings.
Date: May 12, 2023 – Source: Dawn
The state needs to lift the internet blockade in Pakistan. While there may be genuine concerns about violent elements using the digital realm to spread havoc, there should be more intelligent options than to shut down access to internet completely.
Lahore High Court seeks replies from the federal government over internet suspension
The Lahore High Court (LHC) sought replies from the federal government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on a petition challenging the suspension of internet service and access to different social media platforms in the country.
Telecommunication companies suffer additional loss due to prolonged internet suspension
Telecommunication operators and the federal government suffered losses worth Rs1.6 billion and Rs570 million in revenue and tax receipts respectively at the end of the third day of internet services being suspended in Pakistan to counter violent protests.
Mobile data services restored in Pakistan
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) confirmed that it had ordered the restoration of mobile internet services across Pakistan, three days after it blocked such services amid protests.
Pakistanis still unable to access social media sites after PTA lifts curbs on internet
While the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) claimed to have opened up the internet, it has not been fully restored, leading to complaints from people struggling to access internet and social media platforms.
Senate panel directs PTA to provide income details of telecommunication operators
The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to provide province-wise details of income generated by major telecommunication companies during the last decade.
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: May 11, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
Notable figures from the world of entertainment, film, and music condemned the government’s decision to block mobile internet services in Pakistan, demanded immediate access to social media and rallied together to defend freedom of expression and democratic values.
GSMA urges Pakistani government to reverse suspension of internet, social media
Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), in an emergency letter, pressed the Pakistani government to put an end to mobile internet suspension and allow citizens access to online and social media services.
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: May 4, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
A report by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, revealed that an online group in Pakistan targeted people, including military personnel, in both India and Pakistan through fake social media accounts during the second quarter of 2023.
Date: May 8, 2023 – Source: The News
Abdul Rehman Kamal, who was reportedly a member of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) social media team, apologized over his conduct of propaganda against martyrs of Pakistan’s armed forces through fake accounts operated by him on Facebook and Twitter.
Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Dawn
A countrywide mobile internet and social media shutdown, ostensibly to quell unrest in the wake of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) protests, is par for the course when it comes to Pakistan’s abysmal state of internet governance as outlined in the Pakistan Internet Landscape Report 2022.
Date: May 14, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune
While Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were inaccessible in Pakistan, the Prime Minister and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) police shared information on social media sites through enabling proxies.
Date: May 20, 2023 – Source: The News
Following an inquiry, the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing (CCW) booked and arrested four persons in Karachi for allegedly uploading blasphemous content on social media platforms.
Date: May 21, 2023 – Source: Dawn
According to a report released by Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), the organization’s telephone hotline received over 2,600 complaints of cyber harassment during 2022, an average of 224 cases each month.
French media debunks PTI-sponsored disinformation
French news channel, France 24, noted obvious giveaways about an image circulated on social media through accounts operated by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). The image in question was created using an artificial intelligence (AI) program and was being projected as a real-life image.
Date: May 22, 2023 – Source: Dawn
TikTok is uncharted territory in the social media landscape of Pakistani politics. Only two parties – the PTI and PML-N – have official accounts on the platform. With Twitter inaccessible, the PTI leveraged its account on TikTok to mobilize workers, convey official messages and check opposing narratives.
Date: May 22, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Disrupting internet services should never be an option for Pakistan’s authorities. The decision to ban access to social media services hit businessmen and freelance operators hard, creating a trust deficit between global clients and local service providers.
Date: May 24, 2023 – Source: The News
The Digital Rights Foundation’s (DRF) Cyber Harassment Helpline 2022 annual report makes for grim reading when it comes to women and their ability to access and the use the internet as equal participants in public life.
SECTION 4: Digitalization
- Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
- Digitalization in social and development sectors
- Digitalization in business and commercial sectors
Date: May 10, 2023 – Source: Dawn
Google committed 44,000 scholarships by the end of 2023 for Pakistani students wanting to learn in-demand digital skills. The scholarships will enable students to learn courses part of Google Career Certificates (GCC).
Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: The Register
Given that Pakistan promotes the use of freelance remote work platforms as a way for residents to earn a living and improve service exports, suspension of internet services is reducing global confidence in Pakistan’s freelancers – and only fueling anger about the political situation responsible for the outage.
Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Dawn
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) notified draft rules to facilitate the import of duty-free equipment for Pakistan’s technology zones for 10 years. The rules cover the registration of zones, technological equipment zones and retention period.
Punjab to connect commissioner offices to automated e-filing system
The Punjab Chief Secretary issued instructions to extend the scope of e-filing and office automation system (EFOAS) to the offices of divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners.
___________________________________________________________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.