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Pakistan urged to investigate presence of spyware on its communications network

Soldiers stand guard in front of a building of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) in Lahore, June 2005
Soldiers stand guard in front of a building of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) in Lahore, June 2005

REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

We are a consortium of NGOs and individuals - ARTICLE 19, Association For Progressive Communications, Access Now, Bolo Bhi, Centre For Democracy & Technology, Centre For Peace & Development Initiatives, Christopher Parsons, Chunri Chuopaal, Digital Rights Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Global Voices Advocacy, Index On Censorship, Intermedia Pakistan, Individual Land Pakistan, Jacob Appelbaum (The Tor Project), Leila Nachawati, Privacy International, Reporters Without Borders, Renata Avila (Human Rights & IP lawyer), Simon Davies (Privacy Surgeon), Institute for Research Advocacy and Development Pakistan, The Internet Democracy Project India, and Nawaat - committed to respecting user privacy and promoting freedom of expression and access to information.

We express our dismay and condemnation over the presence of a FinFisher Command and Control server on a network operated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL's). FinFisher, developed by a UK-based company Gamma International, has been used to target activists in Bahrain. Privacy International is currently engaged in a lawsuit over the export of FinFisher, and has also filed a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In February 2012, alongside an international coalition of civil society groups, we actively campaigned to stop the impending nation-wide firewall and to inform the government and international surveillance companies of the repercussions of the firewall would have on academia, businesses, trade, and civil society. As a result, five major international companies known to sell surveillance, filtering, and blocking systems publicly committed not to apply for the government's call for proposals last year.

In March 2013 Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology made a commitment to shelve their plans for acquiring the technology for URL filtering and blocking. With the Citizen Lab report we have now learnt that servers at PTCL, one of the largest ISPs in the country, are hosting a command and control server for FinSpy. Based on the report, there are two possibilities: (1) elements of the Government of Pakistan are deploying FinFisher trojans or (2) a foreign government is using a server inside Pakistan for a digital espionage campaign. Either one of these possibilities is highly troubling, and the findings warrant immediate investigation. Moreover, given that a Pakistan Telecommunications Authority's representative has admitted in court that PTCL has acquired a traffic filtering system, we feel that this acquisition and surveillance capability represents a further threat to the free flow of information, user rights, freedom of expression and privacy in Pakistan.

As members of Pakistan's civil society and organizations committed to ensuring the government upholds democratic principles in Pakistan, and with concerns about restrictions on privacy as well as access to information, we strongly urge PTCL to immediately investigate the existence of FinFisher Command and Control Servers and to publicly disclose their findings. PTCL should follow the example of the Canadian ISP SoftCom that investigated and then disabled the FinFisher server on its networks that was similarly identified by Citizen Lab in March 2013. By keeping their users in the dark any further PTCL would harm open and secure access in Pakistan. PTCL should under no circumstances allow FinFisher or other remote intrusion or filtering tools within their network, as their presence directly violates users' rights and privacy, as well as threatening Pakistan's network security.

If PTCL wants to further support business, innovation, entrepreneurship, trade, international investment, academia and human rights, it should immediately investigate and disable this espionage equipment on its network.

Signed:

ARTICLE 19
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Index on Censorship
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders

Other Signatories:

Association For Progressive Communications
Access Now
Bolo Bhi
Centre For Democracy & Technology
Centre For Peace & Development Initiatives
Christopher Parsons
Chunri Chuopaal
Digital Rights Foundation
Free Press
Global Voices Advocacy
Intermedia Pakistan
Individual Land Pakistan
Jacob Appelbaum (The Tor Project)
Leila Nachawati
Renata Avila (Human Rights & IP lawyer)
Simon Davies (Privacy Surgeon)
Institute for Research Advocacy and Development Pakistan
The Internet Democracy Project India
Nawaat

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