Telcos running mass surveillance system under PTA’s orders

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Telecom companies in Pakistan have been operating a mass surveillance system, enabling the interception of telecom customers’ data without regulatory mechanisms or legal procedures, as directed by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
According to a written order, Justice Babar Sattar mandated the PTA officials to file their responses within six weeks and appear in person at the next hearing on September 4.
The petitions were filed by Bushra Bibi, the spouse of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Najamus Saqib, son of former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, over leaked telephone conversations on social media.
The court’s preliminary view indicated that the PTA chairman and members had misrepresented themselves regarding the Lawful Intercept Management System (LIMS).
The order noted that the federal government has granted no permission under the Telegraph Act or the Telecom Act to any agency—security or intelligence—or person to record audio calls or surveil citizens.
“The federal government, as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies across Pakistan, have never once sought a warrant for surveillance under provisions of the Fair Trial Act.
“[However,] a mass citizen surveillance system in the form of a Lawful Intercept Management System has been installed at the expense of Telecom Licensees [companies] on the direction of the PTA at a Surveillance Center designated by the PTA, for use by designated agencies.”
The order noted that through this system, the agencies can surveil the telephone calls of 4 million citizens at any given time while the system also provides designated agencies access to the audio and video data of citizens through the networks of telecom companies.
“The Lawful Intercept Management System has been installed and is being operated without any backing of law. Those who are using and/or enabling the use of the system may have rendered themselves liable to criminal liability under provisions of the Fair Trial Act, Telecom Act, Pakistan Electronic Media Crimes Act (PECA), Telegraph Act, and Pakistan Penal Code,” it said.
Several digital rights experts, including Nighat Dad, Haroon Baloch from Bytes for All and journalist Ramsha Jahangir have reportedly expressed concern and raised alarms over the unregulated mass surveillance by LIMS.

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