Islamabad, 17 June 2012: Google’s Executive Chairman, Dr. Eric Schmidt met with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani on 14th June 2012. Both discussed various mutually beneficial projects that can be initiated in Pakistan with the help and in partnership with Google.
As per news reports, the discussion took an interesting turn, when Prime Minister Gillani asked the Google Chairman to help use technology to "compile electronic data of cross-border movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which would in turn help tracking down terrorists" and Eric responded by saying that "building up and maintaining of databases through use of information technology was crucial to deal with security issues as well as law and order situation".*
We are alarmed by the suggestion that Eric’s visit to Pakistan appears to be linked to Google providing support to the Pakistani Government to increase surveillance of its citizens? The Pakistani Government is already notorious for the extent to which it violates citizen's privacy without due process. That a company like Google, renowned for its support for internet freedom, could be complicit in such violations of rights is very disturbing.
How exactly does Google plan to do that? Google is a corporation that provides Internet-related products and services including Internet search engine, cloud computing, software and advertising technologies. Essentially Google's main business revolves around improving people's access to Internet and then selling advertisements. Another question then arise: how could Google commit to help a government with border security? Will it be through giving money for drones, mapping, more satellite coverage & monitoring or some other technological solution? Is it really in the business interest of Google to help build massive surveillance systems for nation states? Surely, not unless they can advertise to people crossing the border!
It appears that Dr. Schmidt was caught off-guard in the discussions as the Google we know is an active member of Global Network Initiative, well known for its stance on Internet Rights, champion of Open Net and vocal advocate for Freedom of Expression online.
We wish to believe that Google cannot actually provide the Pakistan government with surveillance support systems. It also cannot do a real time tracking of individuals across the border (unless Google is doing more than they claim to their global user base!).
Bytes for All, Pakistan believes that an opportunity is lost and it is a big loss for the Internet Rights movement in the country. Eric could have educated Government of Pakistan, especially the Prime Minister on the global Internet Rights and Principles and how Open Net can revolutionize the development processes and trigger innovation for social justice in a country like Pakistan. Instead, Google Chief chose not to enlighten our Prime Minister by sharing his vast knowledge and experience and rather delved into the discussions on surveillance support systems.
Considering all possibilities and unusual developments that continue to happen in Pakistan, Bytes for All earnestly requests Google to please not help or inspire our government build more surveillance systems. We also urge Eric to please clarify Google's position and to reaffirm its commitment to respecting and protecting human rights on the Internet.
*Note: This public statement refers to the news reports published in the press after Eric’s meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Our efforts to verify these discussion points between PM Gilani & Eric from the local Google team were not successful. So the purpose of the statement is to express alarm and demand clarification.
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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
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