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HRCP Expresses Concern over Call Interception Permission for ISI

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says federal government notification is violation of rights enshrined under Articles 9, 14, 19 of Constitution

by Staff Report

File photo. Josep Lago—AFP

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday expressed deep concern over a recent notification issued by the federal government granting the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency to intercept and trace calls of any citizen in the interest of “national security.”

In a statement, the independent rights watchdog stressed the notification was “in flagrant violation” of the constitutional rights to liberty, dignity and privacy enshrined under Articles 9, 14 and 19. “It also contravenes the spirit of the apex court’s ruling in the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto case,” it added, referring to the Supreme Court ruling that declared surveillance to be illegal, immoral and unconstitutional, with no legal justifications.

Noting the timing of the notification was suspect as it followed on an Islamabad High Court order stating state officials lacked the authorization to surveil citizens, the HRCP warned this measure would “invariably” be used to clampdown on political dissent through “blackmail, harassment and intimidation,” especially considering the poor track record of both the government and the spy agency.

“The government must urgently introduce watertight checks and balances to all surveillance practices—at a minimum as prescribed in the Investigation for Fair Trial Act 2013,” it added.

On Monday, the federal cabinet granted authority to the ISI through a circular to intercept and trace calls and messages “in the interest of national security.” It said the ISI could designate any officer of no less than grade-18 to trace calls through any telecommunication system under Section 54 of the Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act 1996. The measure has triggered much criticism from rights bodies, with detractors emphasizing the violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. Speaking to media, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub Khan warned this measure would eventually be used against the incumbent government and urged it to withdraw the notification.

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