Little legal protection for privacy in Pakistan, says report

The report calls for a privacy protection act to be passed in Parliament


Ismail Sheikh November 14, 2014

Despite being a signatory to international treaties recognising the right to privacy as a fundamental human right and the Constitution of Pakistan also reaffirming the inviolability of this right, the country’s operational legal framework does little to protect a citizen’s right to privacy, a report by digital rights NGO Bytes for All revealed on Friday.

Highlighting discrepancies and flaws existing in the county’s privacy rights laws, the report titled, 'Conflicting with the Constitution - Privacy Rights & Laws in Pakistan', called for a privacy protection act to be passed by the Parliament. The act, the group advocated, should be created through a thorough consultative process amongst all major stakeholders and must incorporate privacy protection guidelines at par with international standards.

The report comes as a cyber security bill is being debated in a senate panel. There is no formal law that addresses cyber security in Pakistan.

Decrying the excessive powers bestowed upon the federal government that allow it to intrude into the private lives of individuals on the pretext of national interests or national security or even the apprehension of crime, the report suggested that judicial oversight should be extended to both before and after scenarios of surveillance.

It further added that data obtained through surveillance should be “submitted and determined by a specialised court fully equipped to make determinations of this kind independently and impartially.”

Recognising the importance of surveillance in the context of national security and the domestic situation, the NGO proposed that exceptions can be made in the case of known terrorists or activists aligned with known terror organisations and who have threatened to wage war against the state; engaged in or planning on engaging in terrorist attacks against civilians. It further stated that those working in sensitive positions like nuclear or military installations could be put under surveillance provided that they are made to sign a release and a waiver authorising such surveillance and monitoring of their life.

For the rest of the citizens, it suggested there should be mandatory user notification.

In a bid to ensure individuals or organisations are not being targeted for mere difference of opinions, the report suggested that specific exceptions ought to be made in the law for academics, non-violent dissidents and other outspoken members of society whose views may or may not conform to the officially acceptable state narrative as monitoring their correspondence on mere suspicion would tantamount to be unfair.

Recommending the constitution of a privacy commission to guide privacy protection initiatives for citizens at the government level, the report further suggested that a comprehensive privacy protection index should be developed to gauge temporal progress. It also recommended the creation of a judicial tribunal to deal with privacy intrusion and surveillance imposed by the government.

The report also called for a mass-awareness campaign to guide internet users regarding their privacy rights, cyber crimes and preventive measures.

In order to discourage acquirement of information through unauthorised means, it proposed that any such information should not be admissible in court. Only data that is obtained through means conforming strictly to the requirements of the guidelines laid down by the court may be admitted into evidence.

It also called for enactment and implantation of a data protection act and revision of cyber crimes legislation.

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