Back in April, we at Bolo Bhi analyzed the then Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, highlighting the problems that could potentially be caused by the Ordinance if it were to pass as law. At that point in time, members of the Senate stood against the PPO, vowing to prevent it from passing into law due to the various human rights violations in the proposed Bill. Nearly three months later, the PPO slipped into the recesses of the public eye and mind, and all eyes and minds turned instead to the recently initiated military operation, Zarb-e-Azb, against militants in North Waziristan region of the country.

However, on the morning of the June 25, 2014, in what came as a surprise move, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior approved an amended version of the PPO, which was swiftly followed by the Bill passing both in the Senate and the National Assembly on June 30 and July 1, respectively. Politicians who had previously criticized the Ordinance came out in their defence, claiming the amendments had removed all – or at least most – of their grievances, and minimized the scope for human rights abuse.

Civil rights groups however remain unconvinced that the scope for abuse has indeed been minimized in the  Protection of Pakistan Act, and are adamant that there has been hardly any substantial alteration to the original document. They contend what has been amended is merely cosmetic.

Below is an attempt on our part to analyze all the major amendments that have been made to the final Act in order to decisively conclude as to whether the latest iteration of the law actually does definitively act in order to rectify the flaws that were inherent in the original Ordinance.

Section 2(d) – Enemy alien:

The “enemy alien” provision exists in both the original Ordinance and the final Act, however there have been changes in definitions. These changes, though intended to rectify the lack of clarity, seem only to have added to the complexity and confusion around the definition of ‘enemy aliens.’ In the PPO, an ‘enemy alien’ was defined as someone who “failed to establish his citizenship and was suspected to be involved in waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan.” In the PPA, an ‘enemy alien’ is defined as one whose identity is “unascertainable as a Pakistani.”

This provision has been correctly criticized for its vagueness. An unascertainable Pakistani is not a non-Pakistani, so what is unascertainable citizenship anyway? Is an individual who has lost his ID card in a different city an unascertainable Pakistani? Many from the lower income strata live without proper proof of identification, yet they are and have been residents of the country since birth. This amendment to the initial legislation could construe them as aliens. The amendment, therefore does not positively impact the problem it set out to address; in fact, the problem is potentially perpetuated by expanding the scope for misuse.

Section 2(f) – Militant:

This provision sets out to define militants and though it provides a long list of characteristics one must possess in order to be deemed a militant, it perhaps goes too far when it states: “threatening to act in a manner prejudicial to the integrity of Pakistan.” The addition would seemingly be open to large amounts of abuse as political dissent may easily be construed as militant-like behaviour. Once again, a clause that has set out to attempt to rectify a lack of clarity in the original ordinance has gone too far in its quest and, in this case, created a provision that may be used in order to suppress protest and dissent against governing authorities in the country.

Section 2(h) – Preparing to commit an offence:

This is another clause that has been added to the final version of the PPA. Offences at such a stage are difficult to prove as they raise questions as to whether the mens rea is sufficiently well established. Read with the provisions of the Protection of Pakistan Act on arbitrary detention and the reversal of burden of proof, the clause once again leaves room for abuse. An innocent act can easily be viewed as preparatory, then putting the onus on the accused to prove innocence after a lengthy period of arbitrary detention. While it is not clear, this could potentially be without legal counsel.

 Section 3 – 15th Grade or above officer:

The PPO allowed any officer of the law, security forces, or armed forces to use as much force as necessary if they subjectively saw reason to do so. In the PPA, the provision has now been amended now only allow a 15th Grade officer or above the power to make that determination and use such force. The government clearly saw a harm in the original provision, but instead of removing the harm, it only limited the number of people who could cause the “harm.” The law also exempts law-enforcement personnel from punishments for causing grievous bodily harm while exercising the authority given to them under Section 3. No officer should be allowed to exercise his powers with such impunity be they above or below Grade 15. The failure to do only points towards a shift in Pakistan fast becoming a police State. 

Section 3(2)(a) – Investigation of officers involved in death due to Section 3 provisions:

While the PPO contained no provision as to the method of investigation, it did allow for investigation if death was caused by an officer exercising the authority allowed to him under Section 3. The PPA however now provides method of investigation. If an officer causes the death of a suspect under the provisions of Section 3, he is to be investigated by the head of his agency. This provision makes a mockery of concepts of checks-and-balances as it is highly unlikely the head would subject his subordinate – under his jurisdiction, to a fair investigation.

 Section 5(4) – Remand not exceeding sixty days:

The PPO had allowed for arbitrary and secret detention (the location of the remand was to be withheld from any and everyone) of up to 90 days without need to be brought before a judge. This amendment reduces that to 60 days, however that is only in cases when a judicial magistrate orders remand. The Government may still set a remand for a maximum of 90 days. The amendment quite spectacularly fails to address the actual question of arbitrary and secret detention after warrantless searches and how they impact an individual’s liberty. Under the PPA, this detention can also be carried out simply on the basis of suspicion of preparation of an act.

Section 6(5) – Retrospective Application:

In the earlier version, the PPO contained the provision of placing the burden of proof on the accused until proven innocent, and this applied to all individuals tried under the scheduled offences provided within the legislation. Despite vocal opposition to this specific provision, it has maintained its place in the recently passed Act. The PPA allows for any individual who is under arrest/detention before the passage of the Act to be charged and tried under this law. This retrospectivity will mean that the entire defence of the accused will be rendered pointless as the Act would flip the burden of proof upon him/her.

Section 9(2)(a) – Disclosure of information:

The only significant change is that now, under the PPA, law-enforcement agencies are required to admit whether they are detaining a person or not; however no other details can be obtained. Under the Act, as amended, the government need not disclose the location of detention of the individual, or the grounds of detention of the individual. Under this provision it would be near impossible for a detained individual to obtain legal counsel as the government may deem the contents of his case classified, thereby excluding anyone except a judge and the security forces from knowing the offence he has been charged with. Quite clearly this stands in contravention of constitutional principles of due process and right to fair trial.

Scheduled Offences 1(xiv) – Cyber crimes:

The PPO declared “crimes against computers” to be an offence under the law. The amended Act however streamlines this as cyber crimes that facilitate an offence under the Act. However, considering that Pakistan has no cyber crimes law  to draw direction from for definitions and methods of investigation, what may or may not constitute of a cyber crime is questionable. Could an individual be charged under such a provision for planning a mass-protest via online media?

Conclusion:

The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance was a deeply flawed attempt at solving a serious problem in Pakistan. The opposition made promises of change, and for once, the people of Pakistan trusted in those promises when the PPO was first blocked in the Senate back in April 2014. However those promises of change seem to have been hollow, and now we have in place the Protection of Pakistan Act, passed both the Senate and the National Assembly. Its much heralded amendments, as highlighted above, do little – if nothing – to rectify the flaws that existed in the original document. Arguably, they seem to act to enhance the scope for violations that were present within the PPO. If Pakistan is to take the war against terrorism and crime seriously, it must ensure the State does not become the same criminal it is locked in a fight against. Laws that compromise  the fundamental rights of citizens should never exist. As far as the Protection of Pakistan Act is concerned, a serious rethink is required in order to reassess the state’s strategy in combating crime and terrorism.

Related Posts:

Timeline – Protection of Pakistan Act: the journey of its passage

Timeline – Bolo Bhi’s Resource Guide to the PPA

 We almost always associate access to the Internet with censorship, but never think of it in terms of connectivity itself. The very first step to accessing anything on the Internet requires an Internet connection – one that works!

At some point or the other we have all complained about our Internet connections – for not working or being slow. And that is more often than not. As consumers, is the return on the money we pay worth the services provided? Are we getting what we signed up for?  We have every right to demand efficient and good quality service – even if we don’t always get it.

The aim of this survey is to gauge the quality of service consumers are getting in Pakistan from their Internet Service Providers – what they signed up for vs what they are actually getting. We intend to collate user responses into a report and bring it to the attention of the various ISPs that are providing these services; the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) who is the regulator and supposed to ensure service and quality is maintained and consumer rights protected; and government officials and legislators to ensure consumers get their due.

The controversial Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, which had elicited an outcry from political parties and rights activists due to its draconian clauses and infringement of constitutional rights, saw the light of the day after an amended version was passed by the Senate on July 1, 2014 followed by the National Assembly on July 2, 2014.

This has been met with a mixed response. While some former opponents are content with the amendments, others suggest further amendments whereas some maintain there is no need for this law at all.

Bolo Bhi reached out to various legal experts and human rights activists to get their view on this piece of legislation and whether the amended version is any better than the original form. Read below what Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a writer on media and human rights issues, has to say about it.

Q. How different is the Pakistan Protection Act (PPA) from the Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO) when it was first tabled? Does the PPA address the concerns raised regarding the PPO?

A. The amendments proposed by the opposition that have been incorporated are as follows:

  • Detention period reduced to 60 days from 90
  • Appeals can be filed in high courts; earlier it was the Supreme Court only
  • Firing on suspects as a last resort
  • Detention places to be revealed to the courts

However, most of our concerns remain unaddressed. The PPO legalises violation of fundamental rights. It also legalises disappearances; law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) are not obliged to inform families of where the detenue is being held. However, they will have to confirm if the person is in their custody. We have seen that even without the PPO, intelligence and military authorities have ignored directives of the superior courts.

Q. The PPO was critiqued for its vague definitions. Are terms such as insurgents, cybercrimes etc clearer in the amended version?

A. Terminology remains vague and therefore there are more chances of abuse; however, attempts have been made to define an ‘enemy’ and an ‘alien.’

Q. Is the current iteration of the PPA in line with constitutionally protected rights & guarantees afforded to citizens of Pakistan?

 A. No. It bypasses provisions related to fundamental rights

Q. Does the PPA follow constitutionally proscribed due process standards vis a vis detention, warrant-less searches, burden of proof and evidence? Are they adequate?

A. No. The burden of proof is now on the accused (to prove innocence), contrary to principles of justice whereby an accused is presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty.

Q. Is there scope for misuse of this law, especially with regards to the powers conferred upon law-enforcement agencies?

A. Firstly, terminology and provisions are both vague and open to interpretation. For example, the police can easily claim that they shot to kill ‘as a last resort’. We already have over 350 cases of extra-judicial killings in Karachi this year alone (according to figures given by the police itself).

Q. What in your opinion still needs to change in this piece of legislation and what should be the way forward?

A. It should be scrapped. Pakistan already has enough laws to deal with terrorism. Focus should be on enforcement.

Relevant Posts:

From PPO to PPA – a Timeline

The Dreaded PPO – an Analysis

On 14th May, several newspapers reported the gang-rape of a young college girl. Such stories are not uncommon in Pakistan, but what slowly unfolded over the days was more than just a gang-rape. These men were part of a gang that had sexually assaulted other college girls, and then videotaped the incident to blackmail them. Even more horrifying is the fact that the rape survivor was lured into the car where the rape took place by her best friend, who has also been arrested. Reportedly, the friend was part of the gang as well. But what about her motives for abetting in the rape of a friend? Is it possible that she had also been a  victim of the same gang, and was forced to help them because they filmed her sexual assault as well? There is no doubt of her guilt, and she should be punished. But if it is a likely possibility that she too was a victim, then this reflects an alarming global trend of using social media to shame victims of rape and sexual assault.

In December 2012, members of the hacktivist group Anonymous released information about a rape victim in Steubenville, Ohio, who had been raped at a party after she had passed out. By 2013, the case had made  headlines, especially because of how the rape survivor had been shamed through photos and videos shared by her rapists on social media. In 2012, a Canadian teenager named Amanda Todd committed suicide after she was blackmailed into exposing herself online, and was shamed and ridiculed at school when her photos were made public.  In another case in 2012, rape survivor Savannah Dietrich revealed the names of her attackers on social media, after a lenient plea bargain denied her the justice she deserved. As a result of this public naming and shaming, she faces possible jail time.

Social media might have opened up new avenues for people through which they can communicate and share information, but with great power comes the potential of even greater abuses. The concept of blackmailing young girls and women with incriminating photos and videos is not a new one, but it is a problem that has remained unaddressed so far. In Pakistan, where women are burdened with ‘family honor,’ they become an easy target for such forms of harassment. The harassment can come from anywhere; from former police officers, the victim’s classmates,  complete strangers on social media, or university students.

In cases where women are spared the horrific trauma of sexual assault, they are subjected to sexual harassment online. There should be no mistake that this form of cyber bullying is sexual harassment. Women are propositioned online, threatened with rape, and in most cases, their personal photos are put up on social media pages such as Facebook. In many cases, women’s faces are photoshopped on pornographic pictures in an attempt to humiliate and blackmail them. Such photos can wind up on Facebook pages which are filled with pictures of young girls and teenagers. The comments sections of such pages are filled with repulsive objectification as well.

The discussion should not revolve around the imposition of honour on women, or how that is exploited by blackmailers and cyber harassers. The debate instead needs to focus on the right to privacy, and digital safety. Young women online who talk about social change are often “punished” for their transgressions through cyber harassment such as online stalking, constant abuse and rape threats, or even morphing photos of activists. As the founder of Digital Rights Foundation Nighat Dad points out in a blog, communications technology has given an avenue to feminists and activists to have their voices heard. But at the same time, “anyone deviating from social norms are subjected to ridicule, abuse and serious threats and in most cases are unprotected by law – particularly blasphemy and rape laws.”

The awful rape case in Mansehra is just one terrible crime in a sea of nameless, faceless victims. Most remain silent because they are afraid of the consequences of speaking out when there are videos and photographs that they feel can destroy their lives. There is an absence of legislation that can ensure that such acts are made a criminal offense. It is also important to remember that like film, music, and art, social media often mirrors a country’s culture, and the level of harassment women face online is the same rape culture that trivializes rape, shames rape survivors, and normalizes sexual harassment to the point that sexually threatening attitudes are never questioned.

In a social structure where there is zero tolerance for women who speak up about abuse, social media has become a tool for punishment of such transgressions, so that rape culture remains intact. We cannot expect that social media will not be used to harass and intimidate women into silence if we are not willing to admit and identify how we are all part of the rape culture that wants to coerce and silence women.

What happens in the Mansehra case remains to be seen. After all, even Mukhtaran Mai was denied justice; Pakistan is not one of the countries where rape survivors get justice, but rather, where they get punished for the crime committed against them. But because of extensive media coverage, this case can be a stimulus for policymakers to lobby for women’s legislation regarding cyber-harassment. Women are subjected to far too many crimes as it is, for once we have the opportunity to curb cyber harassment before it develops into a major issue.

Benjamin Franklin, who is regarded as one of the Founding Fathers of the nation that proudly sings the Star-Spangled Banner, once said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”   Moving the clock ahead by about three hundred years, we have the current President of the United States, Barack Obama, who said, “in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are.”

The convolution of the “American dream” and what it implies, has wrought havoc in the socio-political landscape, which has continually evolved. May be, a few within the American political fold would refute Mr. Franklin’s statement by stressing on the volatile political and security landscape. Perhaps, Mr. Franklin did not take into consideration that magical boxes of light with a keyboard in front of them would constitute the gravest threat that the land of the free and the home of the brave would face. However, it is immaterial to discuss the volatility of changing political perspectives, what must be constant and an overriding force to dictate how a government operates is the element of law. The legal implications of a state defying its own or internationally ratified doctrines of legal principle.

In June of 2013, a person of whom the world had never heard of, an employee of the National Security Agency, by the name of Edward Snowden shook the world and the US Government by revealing that the foremost security agency in the developed world, was keeping tabs on, for the lack of a better word, everyone.

Pakistan, according to reports, was the second most surveilled country by the NSA, this came as a rude shock given the amount of existing “data-sharing” between the American Government and its ally. However, Pakistan itself prides on being the last in implementing the latest technology and ensuring the essential freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of 1973. But the core crux remains how the theory of American exceptionalism in regard to international laws has allowed the State to willfully disregard the validity of international law and is unperturbed about the violations its own government agencies are now committing.

After September 11, 2001, the US Congress felt that the US was grossly ill-equipped to tackle terrorist threats on domestic soil. The restrictions placed on agencies to conduct domestic “spying” which included, but was not restricted to wiretapping and other surveillance methodology were subsequently removed, though the agencies had to obtain court orders to conduct such surveillance, giving the judicial arm of the State supreme authority to condone such acts. The Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that worried Congressmen due to the blatant manner in which it stripped civil liberties, remained intact and was renewed. However, this post does not refer to national legislation, but the manner in which the US is violating international law.

The United States of America ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, giving the Human Rights Committee the authority to review human rights violations which are either taking place with the legal jurisdiction of the US or violations which US agencies are committing. In the light of evolving technology, the UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay at the opening session of the Human Rights Committee meeting stated, “Powerful new technologies offer the promise of improved enjoyment of human rights, but they are vulnerable to mass electronic surveillance and interception. This threatens the right to privacy and freedom of expression and association” reaffirming the notion that the American breach of citizen and noncitizen privacy is a major breach of international law.

Turning the interrogation lamp onto the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Section 702 of which gives US Security agencies broad, sweeping powers to conduct surveillance is in gross violation of the ICCPR which provides the following four principles to gauge whether such power is within the realm of human rights:

  • Limited by statute and clearly defined in nature and scope
  • Narrowly tailored to address legitimate governmental objectives, such as threats to national security
  • Subject to independent oversight systems to prevent abuse
  • Applied equally irrespective of nationality

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which the PRISM program falls, fails each of the above requirements. The Report and Recommendations the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies states, “The United States must protect, at once, two different forms of security: national security and personal privacy”. Moreover, the report also states, “The United States should be a leader in championing the protection by all nations of fundamental human rights, including the right of privacy, which is central to human dignity”.

Such statements made by the President’s advisory group stand in stark contrast with the practice of the US Government. Such disregard for international doctrines are at polar opposites with US rhetoric and global policies. The Snowden revelations have already created ripples through the cyber sphere, stifling choices made by citizens on the services they connect to, what they make publicly available and the activities they engage in online, restricting their freedom of choice, which is also a violation of international law. What the US must realize is that internet security is a two way street: By giving legislative effect to collect, indiscriminately, personal information of non citizens,  can give other Governments the incentive to do the same with American citizens. In order to protect the rights, interests and information of its own citizens, the US administration must ensure the same of citizens which do not salute the star spangled banner. The there is also a significant debate about the NSA spying on it’s own citizens as well, an issue that has grabbed the attention of all of US media.

The United States of America is widely considered the sole global power: It must be the harbinger of peace, stability and the protection of fundamental freedoms, the very idea upon which the US Declaration of Independence was penned. The US must be the very example of adhering to global policies and laws, and not be the one violating them if it doesn’t want to be seen as hypocritical.

On February 12, 2014, Bolo Bhi filed three Freedom of Information requests under the FOI 2002 Ordinance with the Ministry of Information Technology, Pakistan Telecommunications (MOITT). The requests were filed under the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FOI) 2002.

Under the Ordinance, the Ministry had 21 days to respond, which it didn’t, following which we proceeded to lodge a complaint regarding the non-provision of information with the Federal Ombudsman. Letters were issued by the Ombudsman’s office to the MOITT to respond to the FOI requests. On May 2, MOITT responded citing Section 8 (e),(f) and (i) of the FOI Ordinance as the reason for nondisclosure & non-provision of information for two of our requests i.e. directives for blocked websites and web-filtering equipment.

On May 18, we wrote to the Ombudsman again, stating we were not satisfied with the responses received to all three of our requests and asked for a hearing with the MOITT. We placed on record a detailed legal interpretation on why we find MOITT’s non-disclosure citing Section 8 of the FOI Ordinance to two of our requests unsatisfactory and inconsistent with the provisions of the 2002 FOI Ordinance and the Constitution of Pakistan.

Read complete analysis here:

 Interpretation of Section 8 of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 with respect to Non-provision of Information

An executive summary of the document can be found below:

Right to Information:

1. Access to information is a statutory right under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Ordinance 2002

2. The purpose of the ordinance is to increase transparency and freedom of information in order to ensure citizens have improved access to public records to make federal governments accountable to citizens (see Section 3(2) of the FOI Ordinance)

3. Information we have requested falls under Section 7 of the Ordinance, specifically:

a) Policies and guidelines

b) Contracts and agreements by a public body

c) Final orders and decisions, including decisions relating to members of public

*Refer to the following case law: 

Indus Batteries Industries (Pvt) Ltd v/s Federation of Pakistan and Others before the Sindh High court (2008)

AND 

Watan Party and Others v/s Federation of Pakistan and Others before the Supreme Court of Pakistan  (PCD 2012 C292)

4. Statutory right of access to information is further endorsed and bolstered by Article 19-A of the     Constitution of Pakistan

5. This must be liberally construed to afford maximum right or benefit to citizens to expand the right to information

Due Process for Limiting Rights & Information:

1. In curtailing this fundamental right or restricting it, the State has to follow procedural requirements which it must satisfy for the restriction to be legally justified which, we believe the MoITT has not done

2. The first requirement is that the restriction must be imposed through law and not arbitrarily or through discretionary power of the executive branch

3. The legislative branch is empowered to restrict this freedom through legislation and Section 8 of the FOI 2002 Ordinance cites restrictive provisions

4. Section 8 is to be interpreted strictly and not used arbitrarily to defeat the Ordinance

*See Humaira Hassan v/s Federation of Pakistan and others before the Lahore High Court(2012 PLC C.S. 566) which states that final orders or decisions that involve individuals should be made public record

5. For the restriction to apply, the Federal Government must have declared the said material as ‘classified’ as per Article 99(3) of the Rules of Business (1973), which states that the Cabinet Division is responsible for declaring material as classified

6. In issuing the declaration for information to be deemed classified, the federal government must under Section 24-A of the General Clauses Act 1897 provide justifications for the declaration

* See PML v/s Federation of Pakistan (PLD 2007 SC 642) before the Supreme Court of Pakista

7. Only in limited circumstances where disclosure may cause more ‘harm than good’ can such non-disclosure be justified

*See Indus Batteries Industries (Pvt) Ltd v/s Federation of Pakistan and Others before the Sindh High Court (2008 PTD 246)

8. Further, when citing greater harm than good as a reason for non-disclosure, the public body must provide justifications and cogent reasoning

Concluding remarks:

1. In order for public record to fall within the exclusions stipulated in Section 8, it must be declared as classified by the competent authority under the Ordinance read together with the Rules of Business

2. The competent authority, in exercising rightful authority under law will have to provide valid and cogent justifications for its decision for curtailing a fundamental right of the citizens of Pakistan

3. In view of the Rules of Business, only the Cabinet Division or for limited purposes the Interior Division and Defence Division, have the authority to declare information as “classified,” not any other division or department of the Federal Government

4. The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications does not fit the criteria of the competent authority; an order or exercise of executive discretion leading to denial of access to information would arguably be ultra vires of the law

 

 

 

At some point or the other, we’ve all put ourselves through the agony of whacking our internet devices with chappals or hit them against tables in an attempt to humiliate them into working, whilst praying for the lights to come on. For those tiny LEDs to shine, like little portable suns, and brighten up our otherwise miserable days. For them to be all yellow, and not red. Sometimes this humiliating treatment yields results, but at other times the ‘dhitai’ (i.e. perseverance not in a good way) is so agonizingly strong,  it reduces grown men to the sort of tears you only expect from kids who’ve been denied a trip to the playground.  Especially when the latest episode of Game of Thrones NEEDS to be downloaded.

When reduced to such tears, the only recourse then is to pick up the phone and dial the Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) customer care department – which sometimes reduces one to more tears. Here’s how the drill goes: you are asked to restart your device, change router location, alter settings and configurations. The latest gem from one of our customer service reps was “turn [the router] towards Baloch colony.” Yes now we are supposed to keep track of where the nearest tower is located to try and catch signals as if we were trying to catch butterflies in a net!

But mostly, customer care service will insist it’s not them – it’s you. Like a heartless paramour who wishes to make it clear that the fractures in the amour are not her fault. It’s you. It has always been you. And just like with the paramour; customer care too leaves you feeling a little worse about yourself, often curled up in a corner, wishing you could be better. From the wiring you use inside your house, to the lines that are supposed to be provided by the telecommunications authority, to the thickness of the walls in your house and the height at which your modem/router has been placed, to which device you use – all of which affect connectivity and speed  - you are the ones responsible for it all.

Unfortunately for us, there is no way we can “fix” the main lines provided by the telecommunications authority, and for us simple minded folks, concepts of IPv6 addresses and DNS Servers are too overwhelming to even try to address. The latter is a concept even customer care finds hard to grasp. So why is the end user supposed to know this? WE ARE NOT TECH PEOPLE. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT AN IPv6 IS! AND WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO EITHER! How would customer care like it if I asked them to provide me with critique on the Constitution of Pakistan?

“I don’t know why the internet is not working, seems fine at our end,” says the customer care rep. And we are back at square one.: “Well it clearly isn’t and I cannot fix it, hence I called customer care, so can you please send someone to address the problem?” pouring out my angst.

And therein lies the next problem for us simple folk. You see, our ISPs seem to think they are providing us with a privilege – not a service we PAY good money for.  So we are expected be good kids and really make them feel good for bestowing such a great favour upon us. We must call them a minimum of four times before anyone is sent. For the record, the only other times the author has called ANYONE the same number of times in quick succession is when he felt extremely lonely. But I digress. When a technician finally does arrive to your residence or office, the first thing he clearly establishes is that everything is perfect at the back end and any problem that may exist is only in your modem/computer/phone/existence. As if I don’t feel bad enough about my life already.

If we’re lucky, one trip from the technician is all it takes to sort all the problem out – for the moment, till the next day or week when the same problem manifests itself, YET AGAIN. Which is sad because you spend more time on the phone on hold, listening to a horrible rendition of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, praying for customer care to finally deem you worthy of their attention and pick up the phone, than it takes to actually fix the problem.

The lack of diligence on the part of ISPs is a stark reminder of how customers in the industry are taken for granted and ISPs feel no need to improve – rather maintain  - quality of service provided to customers.

This is in all reality the same reason why faster, smoother, more consistent internet at more competitive prices has still not found its way to Pakistan. Afterall, who cares about the customer. We all accept the little we are offered, and no amount of complaints make anything better in an industry with no competition and little motivation for providers to improve their services. And so the lugubrious litany for the average internet user in Pakistan continues, leaving end users frustrated in its wake.

NOTE: Half way through the writing of this article, all three internet connections at Bolo Bhi Headquarters decided to stage a co-ordinated walkout and the author shamelessly blames the lack of access to the world wide web and inherent frustration as a result, for any faults you may find in the article.

A woman was killed last week for marrying a man of her choice. She was beaten to death by her father, brothers, and former fiance. First, they tried to snatch her away from her husband. When that failed, her own kin attacked her, swung bricks at her, and beat her till her screams eventually stopped. They finally succeeded in killing her after previous attempts to attack her on multiple occasions had failed. She was three months pregnant.

This did not happen on the orders of a Jirga. This didn’t happen in a rural village or a quiet neighborhood in an urban locality with no witnesses. This did not happen in some abandoned property late at night. No, this crime took place in broad daylight, near Lahore High Court (LHC) with eyewitnesses standing by and doing nothing as a woman was murdered before their eyes.

An important fact related to the case is being misrepresented in almost all official reports. The public ‘honor’ killing of Farzana is being referred to as a stoning. This could not be further from the truth. The victim’s father told investigators that four people were involved in the plotting of the murder, which means it was a premeditated ‘honor’ killing. What it wasn’t is a public stoning. Pakistan is one amongst 15 countries where stoning as a punishment is practiced, but these incidents of stoning are always extra-judicial. Stoning is the punishment for committing zina (adultery), and in countries where it is legal or practiced, it is sanctioned by the law, or by the community. In the case of Pakistan, where it is practiced, but not legal.

As the online initiative Pakistan Feminist Watch wrote in their statement: “This is also being misreported as a stoning which makes it seem like a state-sanctioned punishment which it was not. No parallel legal system ordered it either… Her family members fired at her and then used bricks and stones that were lying near them to beat her to death… A stoning is very different. This was not one.”

Pertinent questions that arise in this situation is the inaction of the court. If courts had not opened at the time, surely there were lawyers going to and fro from LHC? And if the crime was committed right in front of the LHC, where were the court’s security guards? Why were they absent from the crime scene, and if present, why didn’t they do anything to prevent the crime? And what about the crowd of onlookers that gathered as the deed was committed, but did not attempt to stop it? Reports reveal that Farzana was supposedly escorted by three policemen, how then was she attacked and eventually killed? Her husband  and stepson begged the police  who refused to help. The case is eerily reminiscent of the Sialkot lynching of two young brothers in 2010. The two boys were beaten to death by a mob, while those looking on, including police officers, did nothing. That is the only similarity to the case of course, but one has to wonder how or why, we as a people, have reached this point. Two teenagers, or a pregnant woman are beaten to death before us, and we do nothing to prevent the crime from happening.

Foreign media outlets picked up on the story within hours. The Guardian, New York Times, Time, all ran the story, and the news was successfully outraged over on social media. Dawn, Express Tribune, and The News dedicated an editorial each to condemning the public killing.

According to a report published by Aurat Foundation in 2012, the number of ‘honor’ killings reported for the years 2008-2012 decreased from 475 cases in 2008 to 432 in 2012. This isn’t an indicator of a decrease in killings in the name of  ’honor.’ The decrease in figures indicates that ‘honor’ killings were perhaps reported on less since the Aurat Foundation builds its reports on media sources. In contrast, the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) report cited 869 cases of ‘honor’ killings in 2013. Thanks to the Qisas and Diyat laws, ‘honor’ killings have  become easier, so to speak, as the men who commit ‘honor’ killings are brothers, fathers, uncles of the women, and, therefore, can be forgiven by their family under the law, and avoid jail time.

 There is no justification for committing murder in any situation. But ‘honor’ killings are problematic when the reasons for committing murder are ‘infidelity’ or ‘illicit affairs’; the reality is that just glancing at another man, speaking to one, or walking next to a man, can and is considered as proof of an ‘illicit’ relationship between a man and woman. In any case, suspected or confirmed infidelity is not a cause for murder, and the social double standards which allow men to marry as they please, but punish women for forgetting that they are another man’s property are increasingly hypocritical. Love marriages and elopement are often involved in ‘honor’ killings, due to the mindset that a woman marrying of her own choice brings dishonor to the family. Why? Because in a patriarchal social structure, a woman’s agency is taken away, and her life is dictated by the traditions and customs of patriarchy. Any deviation from these traditions is a blow against the patriarchy and  family honour is one of patriarchy’s many tools.

The head of the family is male, and so, if the women under his ‘rule’ deviates in any way, the ‘burden’ falls upon him, and the other male members of the family, to punish the transgression, so that the family ‘honor,’ or rather his ‘honor,’ is restored to its virginal glory, and the structure of patriarchy remains intact.

But is patriarchy breaking or not? That is the key question here, because the majority of women’s problems is caused by patriarchy, and that is why it must be dismantled. According to Bolo Bhi’s news records, from May 12-31 there were 23 cases of ‘honor’ killings reported in Dawn, The News, and Express Tribune. Out of these, 15 cases cited alleged affairs, and five cited  love marriages as a ‘cause’ of murder. More and more reports of honour killings are related to women choosing their partner. Isn’t this a sign that women are gaining more agency and making more decisions on their own, causing cracks within the patriarchy? Considering that women are well aware that they face death by eloping or marrying of their own choice, isn’t this a rebellion of sorts, a decision to die on their own terms rather than be bartered off into marriage a symbol of silent defiance?

[Read Pakistan's Suffragettes by Farieha Aziz] 

Whether that is the case or not, it is no justification for senseless violence. The destruction of patriarchy cannot come at such a high cost – at the sacrifice of so many innocent women across the country. But it is a matter of how we choose to perceive the situation. We cannot individually charge across the nation as vigilantes. It may sound heroic, but it is not a solution in any case. But consider this: what if the increase in acts of violence against women is a desperate attempt by the patriarchy to regain control over rebellious women? Wouldn’t recognizing the weakening of a seemingly-invincible social structure give us greater power to fight it? Rather than despairing over the inhumanity of murdering a woman in broad daylight, it is better to not let an innocent woman’s death be in vain and become yet another statistic. Rights organizations including the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP), Shirkat Gah, Women’s Action Forum (WAF)  as well as the United Nations (UN) have expressed their horror at the crime, and the impunity that allowed this to happen in broad daylight.

Let Farzana be a symbol of the brutality of patriarchy, the barbarity of a social system that disproportionately favors men and reduces women to chattel. Let our collective rage become a clarion call to all who support the cause. As more and more women defy social conventions for the right to make their own life decisions, it will only represent female empowerment  as women risk death to live on their own terms. That they should not have to risk their lives is a moot point; what matters is how many women take the risk, because each woman represents hope for the future of women in the country.

 

All of us, at some stage or the other, have typed our names into various search engines. Some have been met by a wall of fame meticulously archiving all their wonderful achievements. Others, including myself, have been met by a chronicled horror show of teenage angst and a laundry list of things we wish we hadn’t said or done. For the latter we all desperately wish we could erase all evidence of our naïve past from the vast cosmoses of the Internet.

The debate on the privacy of one’s information online has stretched on for a very long time now, yet it is no closer to a conclusive, accepted standard than it was when it first started. However, a recent EU ruling suggests it has settled on a standard – acceptable or not is up for debate.

EU Ruling

The debate over the right to be forgotten, at least in the European Union culminated on the May 13, 2014, when the European Court of Justice, in a lengthy decision in the case of Google Inc v Mr Costeja González, ruled that any individual could demand that a search engine remove all unwanted information about the individual from its index – regardless of whether it were accurate, lawful, or publicly available elsewhere.

In the case itself, a legally published article from a newspaper in 1998 detailing Mr González’s non-payment of his mortgage had been archived online and searching for his name on Google brought up the article as one of the results. Mr González sought to have Google remove the archive as he believed it acted to his detriment and infringed upon his privacy.

Given the reaction and criticism the ruling has elicited, the case is not as straightforward as the ruling may suggest. One of the questions being asked is why must onus to remove data be on a search engine when it is not responsible for the publication of that data (and that it is the user who chooses to publish). With regards to this, judges opined that the indexing of pages on the Web fit the definition of “processing” data as per the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which Google was under a legal duty to abide by. The Court felt that by aggregating a vast amount of data on an individual, a search engine creates a larger illustration of the individual that would otherwise “not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty.”

The ruling however creates an exception to the rule. The court held that the right to be forgotten could not be applied if there was an “interest in the public having that information… [and] the role played by the data subject in public life.” This is vastly open to interpretation. What satisfies the threshold of an individual playing a substantial role in public life? Is the threshold satisfied if he/she is a politician? If he/she has five-figure Facebook friends /Twitter followers? What about a circumstance in which an individual is not a “public personality” at that point in time and successfully manages to have data on him/her removed from search engines, only to later become the Prime Minister of the country? Will the onus be on a company/search engine to restore all data on the individual that they previously expunged?

To further illustrate the complexities of such a threshold, how it is to be determined and by whom, here is a list of individuals who have requested Google to have data on them removed from its indexes. A list ranging from politicians, celebrities, doctors, to convicted sex-offenders.

Prior to the ruling by the European Court of Justice, Google policy dictated it would remove any information from its index if it made individuals susceptible to certain harms. The ruling however goes a lot further and allows individuals to erase their digital footprint even in cases where it may be highlighting previous misdemeanours. It is therefore no surprise that both Google and Wikimedia – the parent company of Wikipedia – have deemed the EU ruling to be “astonishing.”

It is interesting to review the impact of this ruling in the context of a on recent case in local German courts. Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber’s claim to fame was their murder of a German actor in 1990. They sued Wikimedia to “forget them” and remove all mention of their past act. Under German law, a criminal’s name can be suppressed in news accounts once he/she has served his/her sentence. The German courts, in line with precedent, did order Wikimedia to suppress all content related to the two, however, as Wikimedia had no local operations in Germany, it was not jurisdictionally obligated to abide by a decision of a German court.

If jurisdiction were not a barrier, the outcome in the above-mentioned case would boil down to a question of whether the public has an interest in knowing the past actions of Werlé and Lauber. That is a criteria easy to stretch to fit any narrative, for example, one could put forth the argument that the convicted individuals had a better chance of rehabilitation if their history was expunged. If such an argument succeeded, it would be akin to individuals erasing an integral part of their past, and denying their future associates access to information that perhaps should be known to them before embarking on a mutual endeavor.

Requiring intermediaries to alter – and as viewed by some, censor – data on the Internet could, in the long run, stifle intermediaries, restricting them from providing services that afford free and easy access to information. Also, if legally obtained and published information about individuals starts being removed, neutrality of data and the Internet would be further diminished.

Quoting Orwell, “He who controls the past, controls the future,” said a statement on the case issued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group. In this case, the lines are blurred and who has the authority to do what is unclear.

Divergent views on the ‘right to be forgotten’

The right to be forgotten is a dangerous path to tread upon, argues Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at George Washington University. If unfettered permission is granted to expunge people’s past, ideals of free speech and a neutral Internet can quickly be forgotten, and corporations and powerful individuals will have greater authority to control the flow of information online.

Proponents of the ‘right to be forgotten’ argue that every individual deserves the right to privacy. The vast picture of our stories that is painted across the internet can be collected by people and used in order to commit a vast range of misdeeds, ranging from identity theft to stalking individuals. On the other hand, opponents of the ‘right to be forgotten’ claim all information available on the Internet is published legally – and often voluntarily self-published by an individual online. Their view on the ‘right to be forgotten’ is that is just another way enabling governments, companies and individuals to exert control over what may and what may not be published online. On the flip side, if one is not allowed to remove their digital footprint under certain circumstances, there can be a very real threat to the security of their person. Striking a balance between the two extremes is imperative.

The cultural juxtaposition between the respective approaches of the EU and US towards this issue, poses an interesting reading. While the EU has acted to limit the scope of information that is publicly accessible citing privacy laws, the US and its First Amendment stand in direct opposition. Accurate or not, what the two divergent positions have been defined as are privacy vs censorship.

What the debate really boils down to is a question of individual liberties: does the liberty to either express oneself or access legitimate information outweigh the need to protect one’s privacy? Is it even valid to deem acts legitimately published in the public domain as private? Is this polarity reasonable to begin with? The answers to these questions require also are not straightforward and call for complex reasoning and, at a glance, consideration that this is anything but a simplistic matter and requires further deliberation is found missing in the European Court’s decision.

The majority view on the decision is that it is sweeping in nature and seemingly fails to address the balance between public and private data. According to the Stanford Law Review, it is imperative to draw up a comprehensive policy that provides a clearer framework of data that ought to be protected, and data that need not be. However, such policies must ensure that the right to free expression and access to information are construed widely and only subverted where there is legitimate harm being caused to an individual not to hide a ‘wrongdoing’ on their part.

Edit: Since this article was published Google has launched a portal wherein European citizens can request that links containing information about them are removed from search result pages.This is the first step to comply with a court ruling affirming the “right to be forgotten”.

References

The Stanford Law Review

The European Journal of Law and Technology

The New York Times

The Guardian