October 16, 2014: Honorary Adviser to Ombudsman’s Office Directs MoITT & PTA To Provide Information At the Earliest
The Federal Ombudsman’s office called a hearing on October 16, 2014 between Bolo Bhi and representatives of MoITT, PTA, and PTCL, for non-provision of information. The information requested pertains to a list of blocked websites, Internet surveillance, Internet filtering and the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Evaluation of Websites. Representatives from PTA and MoITT were present at the hearing but not PTCL.
The Honorary Adviser to the Ombudsman’s office, who conducted the hearing, inquired about the pending information. Our complainant apprised him that whereas information regarding the IMCEW had been provided, the Ministry had cited the exclusion clauses of the 2002 law for non-disclosure of information. We mentioned we had submitted a document contesting the application of the exclusion clauses and furnished both the ombudsman’s official and representatives of MoITT with the document in our previous hearing. We further reiterated that the authority to classify information was only vested with the Cabinet Division, and argued that if information was going to be withheld from the public, then the concerned authority – in this case MoITT – would need to provide in writing an explanation as to why it should not be disclosed. They would also have to present the relevant notification from the Cabinet Division that specifically categorised the requested information as classified. This we had asked MoITT to do at the previous hearing as well.
Further, the PTA representative conceded that Netsweeper was present on PTCL servers. The Honorary Adviser to the Ombudsman’s office requested the PTA representative to provide this in writing.
The Honorary Adviser informed both MoITT and PTA representatives that this matter had already extended beyond the 60-day period during which the Ombudsman’s office is required to resolve it under law, and directed them to provide a satisfactory response as soon as possible to avoid violating the law any further.
September 24, 2014: PTA admits to use of Netsweeper on PTCL servers at FOI hearing
The Federal Ombudsman’s office called a hearing between Bolo Bhi and representatives from PTA, PTCL, and Ministry of IT at 2:30 p.m. for all four FOI complaints filed by Bolo Bhi pertaining to internet filtration, surveillance, directives to block websites and list of blocked websites (see letter). However, officials from the Ombudsman called a day prior to the hearing on September 23, 2014 informing that the hearing has been postponed to Friday, September 26, 2014.
On Friday 26 September 2014, The designated official for the hearing was said to be busy, so another investigating officer was assigned for the hearing. Only representatives from Bolo Bhi and PTA were present at the hearing.
At that hearing, with regards to our previous complaint regarding the non-provision of information, we argued that only the Cabinet Division had authority to categorise information as classified and not the Ministry or PTA (see more details here). Further, the PTA officials present admitted to the presence of filtering equipment including Netsweeper on PTCL servers. Since this was a verbal acknowledgement we requested this information from PTA in writing, which the PTA officials promised to present at the next date of hearing. The investigating officer apologized for not being privy to the files of the case, and requested another hearing on Tuesday, 30 September, 2014.
June 11, 2014: Bolo Bhi Argues for Disclosure of Information Through Legal Interpretation of FOI Ordinance
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. A hearing was called on June 11, when 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:
An executive summary of the document can be found here
May 28, 2014: Members of Bolo Bhi and officials of PTA attended a hearing called by the Federal Ombudsman’s office regarding Bolo Bhi’s FOI requests
Bolo Bhi representatives attended a hearing with officials of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) at the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat in Islamabad on May 28, 2014.
The hearing was in connection with Freedom of Information requests filed by Bolo Bhi representatives with the PTA, seeking information on the asking two questions. One, whether surveillance is carried out by PTA on the Internet. The second request was for a list of websites blocked by the PTA.
The requests were filed in February 19 of this year under the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, after which the authority had 21 days to respond to the request. However, despite an acknowledgment, the deadline was not met following which, as per the procedure defined under the FOI Ordinance, we filed a complaint with the Federal Ombudsman about non-provision of information by the PTA.
The Ombudsman issued letters to the PTA asking it to respond and called a hearing. Prior to the hearing, Bolo Bhi received a written response from the PTA through the Ombudsman.
[Read PTA's response to Bolo Bhi here]
On the subject of blocked websites and process of blocking, the PTA maintained the decision is made by the Inter Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW). The PTA shared the official notification that formed the committee in 2006, as well as the composition of the IMCEW. This they acquired from the MOIT, by forwarding our request to them.
The PTA also informed that under Section 8 of the PTA Act, 1996, PTA as a regulatory authority is obliged to follow policy directives issued by the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecom. Bolo Bhi was also provided with the 2012 notification issued by the Ministry of IT & Telecom that calls for censorship of “obnoxious (blasphemous & pornographic) content over Internet in Pakistan.”
The PTA, however, did not share a list of blocked websites citing sensitivity of the list and as mentioned in their written response, referred the matter to the IMCEW to respond as per Section 8 of the FOI Ordinance.
In response to the question on surveillance, the PTA stated that under Section 54 of the PTA Reorganization Act 1996, it can carry out surveillance by intercepting calls and communication if instructed to do so by the federal government. However, the officials stated that PTA has not been carrying out surveillance in Pakistan and has received no directive to date, by the government, to do so either.
The hearing with PTA was concluded satisfactorily. Questions were addressed at length with relevant legal provisions read out during the course of the meeting. When asked why there was a delay in providing the information, the official maintained this was the first request of its kind made to the authority, and vetting a response internally to a request of this nature caused the delay.
It must be mentioned that PTA is the only authority that acknowledged and responded to our FOI requests.
Bolo Bhi is now waiting for a date of hearing with the Federal Ombudsman regarding three FOI requests filed with MOIT. The Ministry cited Section 8 part e, f and i, in response to our requests. These clauses deal with non-disclosure of information under the pretext of national security, classified information, and exclusion from disclosure in public interest. Bolo Bhi has responded expressing dissatisfaction with the response. A letter in this regard has already been dispatched to the Ombudsman.
May 18, 2014: Bolo Bhi Files Complaint with Ombudsman Re: Non-Satisfactory Reply by MOITT
Following MOITT’s response citing non-disclosure of information, we filed a complaint with the Federal Ombudsman stating we do not find MOITT’s response to be satisfactory.
Read our letter to the Ombudsman here
May 5, 2014: MOITT Cites Non-Disclosure Clause & Does Not Provide Information
In response to the letter issued by the Federal Ombudsman, the MOITT cited non-disclosure of information under Section 8(e), (f) and (i) of the FOI Act 2002.
In its response, MOITT stated: “Due to the relation of the requested record to all of the above mentioned sub clauses, the same cannot be shared with the applicant at present.”
April 14, 2014: Federal Ombudsman Does Not Admit Complaint & Refers It To PTCL
March 31, 2014: Federal Ombudsman Issues Letters to MOITT & PTA
Following our complaint to the Ombudsman regarding non-compliance by authorities, the Federal Ombudsman issued letters to the following authorities, directing them to respond:
MOITT: March 31
PTA: April 2
March 12, 2014: MoITT, PTA & PTCL Fail to Meet FOI Deadline
MoITT and PTA, since their receipt of our FOI requests on February 17, 2014, have failed to meet the 21-day deadline to respond to Freedom of Information as per the 2002 Ordinance. Similarly, PTCL has failed to meet its deadline of March 16.
April 15, 2014: PTA Writes Back
The PTA has responded to Bolo Bhi’s request for information regarding the surveillance, list of blocked websites and Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (read press release).
Responding to the requests, the PTA has distanced itself from surveillance, saying it does not carry out surveillance on the internet. In its response, PTA has spelled out its role of regulating telecommunication systems and provision of telecommunication services in Pakistan. 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.
Find original scan here
March 24, 2014: Authorities fail to respond to FOI requests, Bolo Bhi Files Complaint With Federal Ombudsman
The Bolo Bhi team filed Freedom of Information requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2002.
These requests were sent to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoIT), Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL), and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). As per law, the respective authorities are to respond to the freedom of information requests within 21 days of the receipt. However, all three authorities have failed to do so. Therefore, following the next step outlined by the law, Bolo Bhi has filed complaints with the Federal Ombudsman about failure of the respective agencies to respond to the information requests. The Ombudsman now has 30 days to respond to our complaints.
Read Bolo Bhi’s press release here.
February 19, 2014: PTA Confirms Receiving FOI Requests
We received a call from a PTA official confirming Bolo Bhi’s FOI requests had been received. The official added they were being forwarded to the relevant departments.
February 17, 2014: FOI requests received by MOITT
Text message from TCS confirms Bolo Bhi’s FOI requests have been delivered to the Ministry of IT. We have not received any confirmation from the Ministry itself however. We publicly informed a ministry official of the FOI requests via Twitter.
February 12, 2014: Bolo Bhi files Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests
Bolo Bhi has filed Freedom of Information requests to inquire about surveillance and web filtering equipment reportedly acquired by the Government of Pakistan. The request seeks information regarding specific laws under which surveillance & filtering equipment has been acquired. We have asked for information such as purchase orders, cost of equipment, gazette notifications, and takedown procedures (more in our press release here).