Invasion of privacy: Pakistan govt asked to discard current surveillance system
A UK-based non-governmental organization – campaigning across the world on privacy issues – has demanded of the Pakistan government to move away from its current surveillance model that jeopardizes individuals’ privacy and threatens democracy on a larger scale.
According to the report of Privacy International, the practical capacity of the Pakistani government, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, now outstrips the capacity of domestic and international law for effective regulation of that surveillance.
The Pakistani government is engaged in a protracted conflict against armed militant groups within its borders and outside its borders, it is a key player in the global ‘war on terror’. Communications surveillance – of phone and internet protocol (IP) traffic, domestically and internationally – and other forms such as biometric or device registration, is justified by the government as necessary to counter these internal and external threats, even as it becomes less and less targeted and more widespread against ordinary civilians.
“The military’s defence budget has ballooned in recent years as result of significant levels of international assistance, with the military’s access to sophisticated technologies having increased in turn. Attacks against civilian targets in Pakistan’s cities have also fed popular support for communications surveillance and other efforts to register and monitor the civilian population, including national databases and mandatory SIM card registration.”
The report says that “Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have abused their communications surveillance powers, including by spying on opposition politicians and Supreme Court judges. Widespread internet monitoring and censorship has also been used to target journalists, lawyers and activists.
It compares the vague and imprecise laws that govern it against international human rights law standards. The report also gives an overview of the international intelligence operations that Pakistan has participated in and been subject to, including programmes operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
This report reveals, through confidential previously never before released documents, that in 2013 the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s best known intelligence agency, sought to commission a mass surveillance system to tap international undersea cables at three cable landing sites in southern Pakistan.
The “Targeted IP Monitoring System and COE [Common Operations Environments]” would allow Pakistan to collect and analyse a significant portion of communications travelling within and through the country at a centralized command centre. With a projected intake of an estimated 660 gigabytes per second, the system would amount to a significant expansion of Pakistan’s communications intelligence gathering capacities. Through investigation and analysis of the private surveillance industry’s role in Pakistan by Privacy International, the report shows that mass network surveillance has been in place in Pakistan since at least 2005. The Pakistani government obtained this technology from both domestic and foreign surveillance companies including Alcatel, Ericsson, Huawei, SS8 and Utimaco.
This report reveals for the first time some of the previously unknown surveillance capacities of the Pakistani government. This report contains recommendations for how Pakistan might move away from its current surveillance model to one that complies with applicable human rights law standards, and, as such, no longer represents a threat to Pakistani democracy.
The report demanded of the Senate Defence Committee to conduct an investigation into GCHQ’s alleged access to the Pakistan Internet Exchange.
It was also demanded that an inquiry into the 2013 ISI call for proposals entitled “GSR for Targeted IP Monitoring System and COE” be held. This inquiry should request information on any discussion prior to the proposal in 2013 of the adequacy, legality, necessity and proportionality of the proposed project, said the report.