In an article entitled “Fishing in troubled waters,” Pakistan’s English newspaper DAWN showcased issues surrounding surveillance and cyber crime in the country, particularly on the presence of FinFisher spyware’s servers. Gamma Group, the company that manufactures the spyware and numerous other spying technologies, has sold its products to governments around the world, who use them “for social media monitoring & analysis, IP monitoring, active and passive lawful interception, data retention & analysis, strategic & tactical satellite monitoring, GSM location and tracking, command & control monitoring centers and media mining.”

In the article, Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert explained the process of tracking the presence of FinFisher in Pakistan, as well as other countries. “In the case of FinFisher we first were able to get samples of the malicious software from targets. Through forensic analysis of the software samples, reverse engineering and understanding how the spyware works, we were able to see where the software connects to. After doing that we found the locations of servers in a number of countries, one of which was Pakistan,” he said.

The Citizen Lab’s series of reports on FinFisher surveillance suite has documented the presence of its command-and-control servers in 36 countries, including Pakistan.

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DAWN also interviewed Shahzad Ahmad, a Cyber Stewards Network partner and director of Bytes for All. Ahmad spoke on the topic of cyber crime in Pakistan, in particular regarding a new bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015 (PECA), which has been criticized as violating Pakistan’s commitments to universal human rights standards.

Shahzad Ahmad told Dawn that he was disappointed with the government’s failure to make citizens a part of the process when drafting the bill. “Unfortunately, our incumbent government has shown a tendency to discuss, debate and implement critical legislation behind closed doors. In practice, what this means is that those who’ll be affected by this new legislation are kept out and their voices shunned,” he said.

Ahmad called for the government to establish Privacy Commissioners to oversee the government’s handling of this issue, given that judicial oversight has been ineffective or simply absent. He noted that this would be a critical step towards ensuring that everyday citizens are engaged with cyber crime issues and related policies, and reducing the likelihood of enforcement agencies misusing authority. In addition, Ahmad explained that as a signatory to the United Nations convention on human rights, Pakistan needs to establish a national human rights institution, which would serve as a body that can receive and remedy citizen complaints.

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