Lack of Privacy remains a cause for concern, says annual privacy briefing

Islamabad, December 03, 2016: Bytes for All has stressed on the need for privacy and data protection to ensure citizen data remains safe in an annual privacy briefing released in collaboration with Privacy International titled: State of Privacy in Pakistan.

This briefing is a part of an ongoing research that comes at a time when it is urgent to document and respond to the fast changing environment of privacy in the country. It attempts at building a big picture in terms of privacy in Pakistan but closely look at consumer data and privacy, data protection, communication surveillance, biometric data collection and other ‘identification schemes’ whilst also identifying existing laws and legislations in this regard.

As laid out in the report, over the past two decades, the federal has planned several initiatives promoting the use of digital technologies in government departments and services but due to political and other reasons, the implementation has been haphazard and hasn’t been sustained in a se-cure manner. The official e-government portal, pakistan.gov.pk does not provide adequate and updated information, but the current form of the portal lists links to other government websites and pages to assist users in finding information related to government services.

In terms of laws and existing legislation, the report looks at Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, Electronic Data Protection Act (draft), Freedom of Information Ordinance, and law enforcement agencies’ access to public data with detailed focus. In particular, Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act contains a number of clauses on data privacy but the focus is more in either granting law enforcement to gain access to data or to deny citizens from accessing certain data.

Lately, ‘identification schemes’ of government to collect and record data has sparked much debate on privacy and data protection issues. The report particularly mentions controversies on collection and usage of data collected through SIM card registration, National ID cards and National Data-base and Registration Authority database (NADRA). The handling and recording of data through these systems has raised big questions on its lack of check and balance mechanisms.

The report also provides a holistic picture of regional and international conventions that talk about data privacy issues including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The inclusion of some cases of data breach when data was either hacked and shared with unauthorized users suggest a much needed focus on data privacy and protection issues in the country.

Pakistan has consumer protection legislation for all four of its provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory. The laws establish consumer courts to allow for redress by consumers primarily against defective products and misinformation by sellers. However, the report points out that the laws do not have any provisions explicitly to protect the privacy of consumer data held by suppliers of goods and services.

The report stresses that privacy and data protection is a dire need of the day in order to ensure citizen data is safe and is used for purposes. On the other hand, it is also essential that citizens’ right to access government public data to hold the government accountable becomes stronger in practice.

This report is envisioned as a work in progress and as new legislations, government policies and plans are laid out and new findings are revealed, the online document will continue to be updated.

The report is accessible at: https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/970

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About Bytes for All, Pakistan:
Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization and a network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners. It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening social justice movements in the country. Its mission is “ICTs for development, democracy and social justice”. www.bytesforall.pk