Pakistan Court Declares Mobile Data Disconnections By The Government Illegal

from the connecting-rights dept

In countries that put far less an emphasis on expanding human rights and personal liberty, it’s become somewhat common for them to use strong-arm tactics to stifle dissent. One aspect of that is often times the suspension or shutdown of mobile networks, the theory being that the messaging and social media apps dissenters use on their phones allow them to organize far better than they otherwise could and therefore cause more trouble. Frankly, this has become something more expected out of Middle East authoritarian regimes than in other places, but they certainly do not have a monopoly on this practice.

However, there are governments with the ability to reverse course and go back in the right direction. One Pakistani court in Islamabad recently ruled that government shutdown of mobile networks, even if done under some claims for national security, are illegal. The news comes via a translation of a report. As a heads up, you will notice that the translation is imperfect.

Bytes for All, Pakistan welcomes the decision by the Honorable Judge of Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah whereby he declared the network shutdown as illegal and a disproportionate response to security threats.

The judgement reads as, “For what has been discussed above, the instant appeal and the connected petitions are allowed. Consequently, the actions, orders and directives issued by the Federal Government or the Authority, as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of section 54(3) are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction. The Federal Government or the Authority are, therefore, not vested with the power and jurisdiction to suspend or cause the suspension of mobile cellular services or operations on the ground of national security except as provided under section 54(3).”

If the government follows the directions of the ruling — a very real question, to be sure — no longer will federal authorities be able to respond to civil unrest or political activism by simply shutting off phone and data service to large swaths of citizens. It should be obvious that this is the wrong course of action anyway. Taking on a group decrying government oppression by further oppressing large numbers of people doesn’t seem like a great formula for political tranquility. Still, it’s good to see a government being held to account by the court system.

It seems that the folks at Bytes For All are hoping that this action in Pakistan will be the start of a wider shift in government policy across the region.

“This will set [a precedent], not only in the country but also for the external world wherever States use network disconnections as a tool to suppress fundamental rights in the name of security. Disconnecting people from communication networks is tantamount to denying a set of fundamental rights, including access to information, emergency services, expression and other associated rights,” says Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes For All, Pakistan.

Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, but if it can be done in Pakistan then surely it can be done elsewhere.

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Comments on “Pakistan Court Declares Mobile Data Disconnections By The Government Illegal”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"if it can be done in Pakistan" -- But it can't! Story over.

One judge, clearly friendly to “dissent”, perhaps friendly to India, perhaps even a CIA asset intent on disruption, will not overturn executive branch policy. Not when there may be actual need for it at times.

Any story that ends with an “IF” is pointless. If you had any sense, you’d see that. [Since this is Techdirt, I’d better add: Yes, that is sarcasm, I KNOW that’s doing what I just said not to.]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "if it can be done in Pakistan" -- But it can't! Story over.

It’s not one judge. It’s the Islamabad High Court, which is 1 of the 5 federal circuits of Pakistan, directly beneath the Pakistan Supreme Court. Not just any 1 circuit, either — it’s basically the equivalent of Washington D.C. having its own federal circuit.

“Any story that ends with an if is pointless?” If you rely on common grammatical constructions as your measure of judgement for whether a story has “a point” or not, instead of relying on the evidence backing it up, you’re going to wind up with a very skewed collection of what is acceptable and what is not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Governments only follow the law when they want to — because they know they will never be prosecuted. Room 641A in the AT&T building in San Francisco was a completely illegal domestic spying operation (FISA ACT), yet no one was ever tried, convicted, or jailed, despite Obama’s repeated promises while on the campaign trail.

And will anything bad happen to the numerous California mayors, and the governor, for declaring “sanctuary cities” that refuse to abide by US immigration laws? Of course not. Laws are only for the little people.

Middle east governments are not alone, as we can be sure that the US authorities have plans drawn up for cutting any if not all communications whenever deemed necessary, such as in the case of civil unrest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“And will anything bad happen to the numerous California mayors, and the governor, for declaring “sanctuary cities” that refuse to abide by US immigration laws?”

California is currently being sued for this, and it will be shocking if the US government does not win this case. I have no love for Jeff Sessions, but this case is cut-and-dry, federal law trumps state law.

“we can be sure that the US authorities have plans drawn up for cutting any if not all communications whenever deemed necessary”

Which is illegal under a large number of laws, and equally impossible in a country as developed as ours. Signal jammers of any type are forbidden except for specifically-granted Federal authorities, and turning off cell towers would require cooperation or warrants from AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and any other company that controls the towers. That would take a considerable amount of time, and doesn’t even start to address wi-fi and satellite internet services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Regardless of how constitutional or not the US agencies California has elected to ignore are, a state law cannot supercede a federal law. Thus, California will lose this suit, I’m very certain.

However, they could certainly countersue claiming that those agencies are unconstitutional, or such a decision might additionally be made in this case. “California has to follow federal laws, but these federal laws are unconstitutional”, or such.

Anonymous Coward says:

Details please

“In countries that put far less an emphasis on expanding human rights and personal liberty…”
Please name some countries that are expanding human rights and personal liberties. Because as fasr as I can tell, almost every country – if not, every country – is becoming a more restrictive police state.

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