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PTA incapable of identifying person who leaked audio recordings on social media, IHC told

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PTA incapable of identifying person who leaked audio recordings on social media, IHC told

Umer Burney Published November 15, 2023 Updated about 2 hours ago


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The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) on Wednesday informed the Islamabad High Court that it was does not have the capacity or capability to identify the person who leaked audio recordings on social media.
“[…] The applicable laws do not vest any such jurisdiction or authority/capacity in the respondent [PTA] to identify the source of the alleged audio leak,” it said.
PTA’s response comes after the IHC raised several questions during the hearing of petitions filed by Bushra Bibi, the spouse of ex-premier Imran Khan, and Najamus Saqib, son of former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar.
The son of the ex-CJP had challenged parliamentary proceedings over seeking bribes from a candidate of the Punjab Assembly, while the former first lady had challenged the ongoing inquiry related to her alleged conversation with Zulfi Bukhari, a former aide to the then prime minister, for selling Toshakhana gifts.



“How is electronic surveillance being done, and who is doing it? Who is the competent authority for making a decision to record phone calls? The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) says they have not permitted listening to third-party conversations to anyone,” IHC’s Justice Babar Sattar had remarked during the previous hearing.
He had also asked the respondent authorities — including the PTA, Prime Minister’s Office and FIA — to “identify the entities and agencies that have requisite technological capability to record telephone calls and/or surveil telecommunication”.
In a report submitted in the court today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the PTA said that under Section 20 (malicious code) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), 2016, an aggrieved person may approach the authority for blocking of content that harms the reputation or privacy of a person.
It stated that the law also empowered the PTA to remove such content if it is in the interest of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court.
The removal and blocking of unlawful content is regulated rules under Peca namely the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules 2021, it said.
Complaints filed under these rules are first analysed and approved and then steps are taken to remove the content — done by approaching the social media operator or through technical action against their services.
The PTA explained that social media operators provide official channels with regulators for raising requests, but they too follow their own community guidelines. Therefore, any request that is not in line with these guidelines may not be accepted.
In terms of technical action, the authority continued, internet traffic of the telecom operator flowing to servers can be monitored for technical reasons such as blocking content. However, this option is limited because of the technology in play.
It added that Section 29 (retention of traffic data) of Peca provides for the establishment of an investigation agency and this task has been given to the Federal Investigation Agency through its Cyber Crime Wing.
“Sections 51 of Peca provides for the powers of the federal government to make rules for carrying out the purposes of Peca,” the PTA concluded.

PMO report​

At the previous hearing, the PMO had also submitted its report in the case, saying that it “does not interfere” with the domain of intelligence agencies, “keeps an arm’s length relationship” and expects them “to work under the Constitution and law of the land in the public interest”.
According to the response filed by the principal secretary to the PM, “in context of explaining measures taken to investigate” the audio leaks, the federal government “in September 2022, in view of the cyber security breach in the Prime Minister Office/House, a high-powered committee was constituted by the Prime Minister to oversee investigation into the breach and to suggest measures to secure the cyber space [sic] and to ensure electronic security of the public offices of strategic importance.”
The report stated an inquiry commission was also constituted vide cabinet division’s notification dated May 19, 2023, to probe into the veracity of alleged audio leaks which raised serious apprehensions about the independence of the judiciary. Led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, the commission also comprises Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq.
The PM Office “does not interfere with the sensitive day-to-day working of intelligence agencies. Being a political-cum-administrative office, the PM Office keeps an arms-length relationship, and does not interfere with key functions of the premier intelligence agencies.”
While discussing the laws that empower the agencies for surveillance of civilians, the report mentioned, “Investigation for Fair Trial, 2013 provides a well-ordained mechanism for grant of permission authorising recording of telephone conversations between citizens”. Also, the Telegraph Act, 1885 provides a mechanism for ‘interception of messages’, besides the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 that also deals with this subject, according to the PM Office.
While referring to various laws and explaining the PM’s Office position in the matter, the principal secretary to the prime minister suggested that the court decide it as “deemed appropriate”.
 
Pata sabko hota hai

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Par batata koi nahi
 
The only thing PTA is capable of is shutting down websites and closing off the internet.

Nothing else.
 
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