7/05/2014: The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has responded to Bolo Bhi’s request for information regarding surveillance equipment and list of blocked websites.
Responding to the requests, the PTA has distanced itself from surveillance, saying it does not carry out surveillance on the internet. PTA was specifically asked for presence of surveillance equipment in Pakistan. According to Canada-based Citizen Lab’s report published April 30, 2013, tests conducted detected the presence of FinFisher Command and Control servers in Pakistan. FinFisher is a digital spying server used for mass surveillance of the internet.
Regarding disclosure of the list of websites blocked by the PTA, it is still awaiting decision of the competent authority (who that is, has not been specified).
It is important to note here is that the PTA has gone on the record to say that the surveillance of internet is not carried out by PTA, which is the regulator. Given that the tests that confirmed the presence of FinFisher servers in Pakistan, the question arises that what agency of the government is really carrying out surveillance?
Bolo Bhi had filed right to information requests with the PTA under the Freedom of Information Act 2002 on 12 February, 2014. Under the law, an authority has 21 days to respond to the request. We filed a complaint on 24 March 2014 with the Federal Ombudsman about failure of the PTA to respond to the information requests within the specified period. On 2 April, 2014, the Federal Ombudsman notified us that PTA has been given the deadline of 18 April 2014 to respond to our request. Complying with the order of the Federal Ombudsman, PTA responded on 15 April 2014.
PTCL and Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication have also been sent similar requests, but have not responded. We are awaiting for an official notification for a hearing at the Ombudsman’s office.
Bolo Bhi means ‘Speak up’, in Urdu. We are a not-for-profit registered under the Societies Act XXI of 1860. Bolo Bhi is geared towards gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy. We are a team of individuals with diverse backgrounds who are passionate about the same causes and believe it is crucial to bridge the gap between rights advocates, policy makers, media and citizens. It is by bridging this gap that one can move ahead to chart a way forward and resolve issues through consensus.