Surveillance Laws: Why should Pakistan not like Western countries get help from technologies to bust terrorism?

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DND Report

Pakistan is fighting desperately to control rising terrorism that has been reinjected by the PTI government by resettling terrorists back inside Pakistan after inviting them from Afghanistan.  There is a question why should Pakistan not protect itself from terrorism by using all possible gadgets it has including digital data and audio transmission surveillance by using Information Technology and Artificial Intelligence?

Every day one can find news about terrorist activities across the country and the initiative of Azm e Istehkam has been announced to mitigate terrorism by finding overt and covert relationships among terrorists with their abettors, handlers, sleeper cells, and supporters. Regrettably, some politicians, journalists, and human rights organizations have already launched a campaign against Azm-e-Istehkam. A background check of such politicians, journalists, and political analysts indicates their economic interests are directly or indirectly linked with legal and illegal business ties with Pak-Afghan bordering areas. They understand that the forthcoming Azm-e-Istehkam would not only clog loopholes within the system that offer edible smuggling, arms deals, weapon trade, and availability of criminals for abductions for ransom, paid killing, land grabbing, and several other unlawful and prohibited activities rather will unearth contacts among criminals and their powerful supporters. Azm-e-Istehkam would be a multifaceted national vision for sustainable peace and stability, involving collaboration between various security agencies and the entire state apparatus to eliminate the remnants of terrorists, their criminal facilitators, and violent extremism in the country. By blocking Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, some politicians and journalists are trying to serve their economic interests but at the cost of the stability and well-being of their country—-Pakistan. Should patriotic Pakistan not stand against such elements?

For this purpose, the government has allowed Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to monitor and intercept communications by using Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (re-organization) Act of 1996 as the legal basis for granting ISI authority to tap phones. This section categorically empowers the state institutions to intercept communication and it has been in the law since 1996 but those who wish to halt Azm e Istehkam are calling this 28-year-old law a violation of fundamental rights’. In Pakistan, it seems that only terrorists have fundamental rights, not the victims because whenever the state tries to punish terrorists, certain strata of society start crying that ‘human rights are being violated’.

Why should Pakistan not like Western countries get help from technologies to bust terrorism
Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (re-organization) Act of 1996 categorically empowers the state institutions to intercept communication and it has been in the law since 1996

Related document: Download the Pakistan Telecommunication (re-organization) Act of 1996 to click here

 

According to the notification, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication directs state institutions to do surveillance that is needed to bust terrorist networking by using Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (re-organization) Act of 1996 which authorizes the state to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any telecommunication system. The notification reads as:

“In exercise of the powers conferred under Section 54 … the federal government in the interest of national security and in the apprehension of any offense, is pleased to authorize the officers not below the rank of grade 18 to be nominated from time to time by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any telecommunication system as envisaged under Section 54 of the Act,”.

The law ministry is clear that telegraph law already since 1996 is very categorical and section 54 (National Security) (1) states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, in the interest of national security or in the apprehension of any offense, the Federal Government may authorize any person or persons to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any telecommunication system.”

The ministry says that the government has designated a Grade-18 officer from the ISI to oversee the interception of phone calls and other communications as per law and there is no infringement of human rights because all over the world these powers lie with the state institutions for maintaining the national security. There are examples of surveillance around the world where law enforcement agencies are given access to cellular company data, and based on that data, they organize operations to defeat terrorists. If we take a close look at these types of laws in countries around the world, it is clear that through legislation, intelligence agencies in different countries around the world are allowed to use modern technology in their execution.

It should be noted that in the Western world where human rights enjoy top priority, the foremost priority is the country and US agencies such as the NSA have the power to do all of this under the USA Patriot Act, while in the UK the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 allows access to communications including internet browsing. In Australia, it is done through the Interception and Access Act 1979, while France has the Intelligence Act 2015, Germany has the G10 Act on Surveillance, Spain has the Data Protection and Guarantee of Digital Rights Act 2017, Russia has surveillance laws and Norway has surveillance under the Intelligence Act 2000.

In South Asia, India has surveillance laws Information Technology Act 2010, Bangladesh has Surveillance Digital Security Act 2018, Sri Lanka has Surveillance Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979, Nepal has Electronic Transactions Act 2008 and Investigation Department Act, Bhutan has surveillance law, Information, Communications and Media Act 2006.

In South America, Brazil has Brazil’s Intelligence Act 1999, Argentina has the National Intelligence Act 2001, Ecuador has the Public Security and State Security Act 2010, Peru has the Interception of Communications Act 2013 and Chile has the Interception Communications Act 1999.

Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia also allow their state functionaries to surveillance data.

In light of the facts above, the government of Pakistan’s permission for surveillance to prevent terrorism is a very commendable decision. It is hoped that the politicians, human rights organizations, and the Judiciary will consider this decision as a positive one in the category of national interest and will decide according to the constitution and law on any application against it.

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