PTI leader and former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has accused Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) of acquiring software owned by a Canadian company to spy on all digital communications in Pakistan and block YouTube.
According to Shireen Mazari, PTA acquired a web management system (WMS) from a Canadian company called Sandvine. She accused PTA of using the software to spy on digital communications, which is a human rights violation.
Moreover, she alleged PTA of misusing the software to block YouTube when PTI Chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan is giving his speeches. Pertinent to mention that YouTube was briefly shut down across Pakistan ahead of Imran Khan’s speech during his party’s rally in Peshawar. Due to the censorship, criticism was amassed against the incumbent government yet again for “curbing free speech”.
Read more: Imran Khan rakes in millions of views despite YouTube shutdown
“Misuse of technology, that has been acquired with taxpayer money to block out most popular national leader Imran Khan and the largest national political party PTI, by depriving the nation including taxpayers of hearing their leader speak. Surely this is a misuse of our taxes?” Shireen Mazari tweeted.
Misuse of technology, that has been acquired with taxpayer money to block out most popular national ldr IK & the largest national pol party PTI, by depriving the nation incl taxpayers of hearing their ldr speak. Surely this is misuse of our taxes?
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) September 11, 2022
Since Sandvine is owned by Francisco Partners – an American private equity firm focused on technology-based services – PTI leaders are considering it a conspiracy by the incumbent government to allow US interference. PTI leader Babar Awan demanded answers from PTA for the “interception”.
“PTA, answer! Got a web management system from the Canadian firm Sandvine? Blocking live coverage of Imran Khan on YouTube through this software. Which constitution and which law allows such spying and interception?” Babar Awan tweeted.
پی ٹی اے، جواب دے! کنیڈین فرم Sandvine سے ویب منیجمنٹ سسٹم حاصل کیا ہے؟ اِس سافٹ ویئر کے ذریعے یوٹیوب پر عمران خان کی لائیو کوریج روک رہے ہو۔ کون سا آئین اور کہاں کا قانون ایسی جاسوسی اور مداخلت کاری کی اجازت دیتا ہے؟ #MinusOneNaManzoor
— Babar Awan (@BabarAwanPK) September 11, 2022
Sandvine acquired during PTI tenure?
Interestingly, netizens responded to Shireen Mazari’s accusations by sharing a report from 2019 (when PTI was in government) claiming that the government acquired the services of Sandvine to help build a nationwide “web monitoring system”.
"Pakistan’s Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Azam Khan Swati, told the country’s Senate that the PTA had asked Inbox Business Technologies and Sandvine Inc, to provide equipment for monitoring grey traffic."https://t.co/JHZDiYMAXa https://t.co/DCkx1hwfim
— Khurram Husain (@KhurramHusain) September 12, 2022
According to the report, a March 2018 tender available on the PTA’s website invited bids for the web monitoring system (WMS) “at the national level, for identifying and blocking access to any online content classified as unlawful under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016”.
Sharing details of the agreement, the report says the WMS contract is worth $18.5 million and it’s dated Dec 12, 2018. PTI came into governance in August 2018.
Read more: PTI accuses PPP of snatching Ehsaas’ digital assets
On the other hand, the report also noted that a tender notice available on the PTCL’s website confirmed that Sandvine was providing its services in Pakistan dating back to at least 2016 when PML-N was in power.