British hacking claims: Rights campaigners urge Islamabad to protect privacy of citizens

By AFP
Published: June 24, 2015
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Rights campaigners have urged Islamabad to take action to protect the privacy of its citizens after leaked top-secret documents appeared to show British intelligence had gained access to almost all the country’s Internet users.

The revelations were based on a cache of files from 2008 released by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and reported by journalists Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept, an online news outlet, this week.

Read: British e-spy agency hacked network routers to access almost any internet user in Pakistan

In a document marked “TOP SECRET STRAP2 UK EYES ONLY” allegedly issued by Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the spy agency discusses its computer network exploitation (CNE) and software reverse engineering efforts abroad.

“Capability against Cisco routers developed by this means has allowed a CNE presence on the Pakistan Internet Exchange which affords access to almost any user of the internet inside Pakistan,” it said, referring to a US technology company that provides most of the world’s network infrastructure.

“Our presence on routers likewise allows us to re-route selected traffic across international links towards GCHQ’s passive collection systems.”

Digital Rights Foundation, a non-profit that campaigns for online privacy, said in a statement on Tuesday, “This hacking operation, at a scale never previously seen before from the British intelligence agency, seriously undermines the right to privacy of all users of the internet in Pakistan.”

The group’s executive director Nighat Dad added: “When ostensibly democratic nations carry out such draconian and unethical actions against the citizens of nations they are ‘allies’ of, it sets a troubling precedent.

Read: Need of the hour: Cyber Crime bill needs a balancing act, say experts

“The government of Pakistan could point to the actions of the US or the UK as justification for passing greater surveillance measures against its own people.”

Sagheer Wattoo, a spokesperson for the Information Communication Technology ministry, told AFP: “We are trying to ascertain the veracity of the report. Based on the outcome of the fact finding, the relevant agencies will be directed to take appropriate action.”

He added that securing Pakistan’s Internet was the responsiblity of Internet Service Providers as a condition of the licences awarded to them.

A spokesperson for the Britain’s High Commission in Islamabad meanwhile said: “We do not comment on intelligence issues.”

Last month, The Intercept reported that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) had linked Al Jazeera’s longtime Islamabad bureau chief to the terror network al Qaeda based on meta-data collected from 55 million mobile phone records.

Pakistan is in the process of debating its own cyber-crime bill, which rights campaigners say threatens to curtail freedom of expression and privacy in its current form.

Rights groups also expressed concern over a provision that allows the government to share intelligence with foreign spy agencies, such as the NSA, and the mandating of service providers to retain telephone and email records for up to a year.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Zahid Jamil
    Jun 24, 2015 - 6:39PM

    So it’s these serious national security and criminal justice threats that need to be addressed by a cybercrime Bill not SPAM or social issues. This is a serious issue and diluting it with other issues only acts as reductive of the seriousness of this urgent cybercime threat prejudicing our national interest.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 24, 2015 - 7:15PM

    Sagheer Wattoo, a spokesperson for the Information Communication Technology ministry, told AFP: “We are trying to ascertain the veracity of the report. Based on the outcome of the fact finding, the relevant agencies will be directed to take appropriate action.

    The month of Ramadan is not meant for jokes. The ”GCHQ and NSA has complete control over the world wide communication net work. The NSA can even provide live pictures of the Prime Minister having a bath in his bath room. Why not check the surveillance apparatus of CIA in Islamabad American embassy? Snowden reveletion shook the non participating Europeans in the program especially the Germans when it was revealed that the Chancellor Merkel mobile telephone was ubder surveillance for more than a decade.

    Rex MinorRecommend

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