Internet freedom on decline in Pakistan


KARACHI: A world freedom advocacy group and research organisation has found Pakistan among top 10 countries within the world where internet freedom has been on the decline and raised concerns over the principles proposed by the country that would further damage cyber liberty.

In its latest report titled “Freedom on internet 2021: the worldwide Drive to regulate Big Tech”, the Washington-based Freedom House came up with details of cyber freedom in several countries round the world and ranked Pakistan seventh among “abusers of internet freedom”.

Weighing different indicators of internet freedom, the advocacy group gave reasons and facts which led to its ranking. Discussing data sovereignty as an excuse for surveillance, it cited samples of different countries and highlighted things in Pakistan where the govt has recently introduced new regulation for internet users and repair providers.

“In some cases, such data localisation requirements are introduced within the context of content regulation,” said the report. “Pakistan’s proposed Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, the newest version of which was published in November 2020, outline requirements for social media companies to determine one or more data servers within the country.”

The report expressed concern over the proposed regulation within the country which, it said, would cause negative impact on social media companies and also the users. “Pakistan’s proposed rules have raised alarms about their impact on end-to-end encryption. The draft requires social media companies and repair providers with quite 500,000 users handy over personal data during a decrypted and readable format when requested by the Federal Investigation Agency,” it added.

In its key findings, the liberty House said global internet freedom had declined for the 11th consecutive year. the best deteriorations, it added, were documented in Myanmar, Belarus and Uganda, where state forces launched crackdown amid electoral and constitutional crises.

Myanmar’s 14-point score decline is that the largest registered since the liberty on internet project began.

The report also blamed the governments in several parts of the word for clashing with technology companies on users’ rights, pertaining to a minimum of 48 countries where the authorities pursued new rules for tech companies on content, data and competition over the past year.

“With a couple of positive exceptions, the push to manage the tech industry, which stems in some cases from genuine problems like online harassment and manipulative market practices, is being exploited to subdue free expression and gain greater access to non-public data,” it said.

The report also found Pakistan among 24 countries which have initiated measures governing how platforms treat content, and among 38 nations where the authorities pursued reforms affecting companies’ management of knowledge . The findings suggested that not in Pakistan alone, the web freedom faced a significant challenge round the globe.

“More governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social or religious speech than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in a minimum of 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms. Authorities in a minimum of 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors,” it added.

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