Pakistan government must not breach the privacy of citizens by granting police access to phone data.
The Pakistan Federal Minister for Interior Rehman Malik announced on May 13 plans to grant Police access to phone data in Pakistan, a summary of which, according to Malik, had been forwarded to the Prime Minister. Malik also announced police would be provided with equipment to find the location of criminal elements, according to a news report in The News International. The Express Tribune further reported that a central crime database would be set up in Islamabad.
Firstly, this is a grave cause for concern as granting police access to phone conversations of Pakistani citizens is a breach of the right to privacy, something that must be safeguarded by the State.
Secondly, this access is also likely to be abused by Police officials, and can be used for interests other than the stated reason of protecting national security. This can include breach of privacy for political purposes, financial information, and business rivalries, to name a few.
Thirdly, the government must outline the set of laws under which the breach of privacy of citizens is to be justified, rather than simply issuing directives. Unfortunately, the Constitution of Pakistan does not list the right to privacy as a fundamental right, something that clearly needs to be done seeing its membership of the United Nations and ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 of which states:￼￼
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Therefore, it is hard time legislation that safeguards the privacy of citizens of Pakistan is drafted by the Parliament of Pakistan and put into force at the soonest.
Until that happens, the government must not proceed with granting Police access to phone conversations of Pakistani citizens, or set up a central crime database. The government must remain true to the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, and ensure the rights to its citizens rather than violating them.