Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert delivered a keynote address and contributed to a panel discussion as part of the 2015 Pakistan Cyberspace conference, held in Islamabad. The two day conference (February 26-27) is organized by Cyber Stewards Network partner Bytes for All. It convenes cyberspace experts, government officials, human rights activists, media professionals, and business leaders to discuss a range of issues related to cyberspace in Pakistan.

In his keynote, Deibert outlined how online censorship in Pakistan has been used to suppress political dissent and free speech. In the same vein, he explained that governments throughout the world have had “backdoors” built into major telecommunications companies for easy access to consumer information. Deibert concluded his remarks in the keynote by placing emphasis on the fact that “for a truly open, free, [and] secure cyberspace, individuals and societies will actively have to strive for it.”

Panel discussions focus on five topics, including “The Media and the Internet: Opportunities and Obstacles” and “Surveillance, Privacy  and the State Security Narrative in Pakistan.” Deibert weighed in on the panel entitled “Cyber Warfare: A New Battleground,” moderated by Shahzad Ahmad, Director of Bytes for All, and includes speakers such as Mushahid Hussain Syed, the Chairman of the the Pakistani Senate Standing Committee on Defence; Ammar Jafri, the Chairman of Cyber Security Task Force of Pakistan; Aamir Atta, the editor of ProPakistani.com; and Quratulain Zaman, an author with Global Voices. Panelists discussed the possible shaping of online space into a new battleground for military, intelligence and corporate agencies.

While speaking on the panel, Deibert explained the dangerous development that military establishments are beginning to influence public opinion using cyberspace. Deibert said that “prescient statements such as that a grand cyber warfare is just around the corner, are more rhetoric and less reality.” He added that the perceived threat of cyber warfare is a greater threat than the warfare itself, providing states with justifications for an arms race.

When asked about ways in which the global community is responding to increasingly invasive technology based surveillance, Ahmad offered the example of evidence-based public interest litigation. In particular, Ahmad cited Citizen Lab research revealing the presence of FinFisher Command and Control servers in Pakistan [PDF], which in turn prompted legal action by Bytes for All.

Read more about the 2015 Pakistan Cyberspace conference, including attendees and schedule. A live Twitter feed of the conference can be found on Bytes for All’s Twitter account.

Media Coverage: Daily Times.