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 bytesforall.pk 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.