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Despite Pakistani concerns over digital surveillance, snags in hearing of FinFisher case

While digital surveillance is increasingly becoming a concern among common citizens all over the world, the hearing for a public interest litigation case is continuously hitting snags at Lahore High Court. Bytes For All Pakistan had filed a writ petition (no.11786/2013) in the Lahore High Court in May 2013 challenging the existence of FinFisher Command and Control Server on the network of Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) and suspected digital surveillance targeting human rights defenders, civil society oganizations and common citizens in the country.

The existence of FinSpy/FinFisher Command and Control server was discovered by Citizen Lab in its report titled "For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying" released on April 30, 2013.

The Lahore High Court through its order dated 13 May 2013 had ordered the PTA to look into the matter and present a definitive report within one month. The PTA has subsequently consistently failed to provide such a report. To our disappointment, despite getting confirmed dates on six occasions, the hearing of the case has either been left over or cancelled by an order. Resultantly, our attempts to get a hearing on this issue, of great national security importance, are still in waiting.

Firmly standing against censorship and digital surveillance, Bytes for All is committed to ensuring and safeguarding digital privacy, online security and human rights of all citizens of Pakistan. However, it is a matter of grave concern that our attempts to protect the basic fundamental right to privacy of Pakistanis are constantly being thwarted by unknown quarters.

To reiterate, we wish to find answers to the following important and critical questions as listed in our petition:

  • Who is using this command and control server and what exactly is the purpose of it in Pakistan?
  • Why has the most notorious digital spying tool been deployed in the country without any public knowledge, especially when there are no individual protections or privacy laws in place?
  • How is FinFisher not a national cyber security threat for Pakistan and Pakistani citizens;
  • If this server is not used to spy on the citizens, is it targeting cross-border spying? and
  • How much public funds have been spent to acquire this notorious anti-democracy technology?

We still do not know that who might be behind the FinSpy command and control server on PTCL Network but we know for a fact that some of the foreign Governments had also mined data from Pakistan. Whether it is a foreign government or our own, surveillance without due process and surveillance, which is not necessary and proportionate, in pursuance of an order of the court, is illegal and immoral.

Unfortunately, breach of privacy is a much graver issue than censorship, as censorship can be circumvented; loss of privacy is always permanent.

While currently High Courts in Pakistan are on summer vacations, we hope that the Lahore High Court will take up this case of global importance soonest possible in September 2014. We commit ourselves to assist the honorable court to get to the real facts on this issue and strengthen remedies and protections for the citizens in Pakistan.

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