'National security:' Pakistan allows spy agency to 'trace, intercept' calls

'National security:' Pakistan allows spy agency to 'trace, intercept' calls

Decision comes amid case against illegal spying where court estimated that around 4M citizens can be surveilled simultaneously

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – The Pakistani government has allowed the country’s premier spy agency to intercept and trace calls and messages through any telecommunication system in the “interest of national security,” said an official notification.

According to the notification issued by the Ministry of Information Technology on Monday, the authorization was granted to the Inter Services Intelligence or the ISI under Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication Act, 1996.

It comes months after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) was informed during the hearing of a case related to audio leaks that the government had not permitted any intelligence agency to tap audio conversations.

In December, Bushra Bibi, the spouse of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, had filed a petition seeking action against a leaked conversation purportedly featuring her and her lawyer.

Earlier this month, an order by the IHC in a case related to surveillance of citizens revealed that telecom companies in the country are running a mass surveillance system which “enables interception of data and records of telecom customers” without any regulatory mechanism or legal procedures, on the orders of the Pakistan Telecomm­unication Authority (PTA).

According to the judgment, the court was told that telecom companies have been asked to “finance, import, and install” the Lawful Intercept Management System (LIMS) at a designated place (referred to as ‘surveillance centre’) for the use of “designated” agencies.

The name of these agencies, however, was not revealed to the court.

​​​​​​​The judgment observed that 2% or over four million of the total telecom consumers in Pakistan can be survellied simultaneously under a mass surveillance system.

A series of several audio clips, including that of Khan and his wife, were leaked on social media, in the lead up to Feb. 8 elections.

In a written response submitted to the Sindh High Court last month, the Interior Ministry dubbed the social media platform X as a “threat to national security,” justifying a months-long ban on the social media platform in the country.

The government banned the social media platform on Feb. 17, days after widespread protests against alleged rigging in the general elections, drawing widespread public outcry.​​​​​​​

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