Tapping & Privacy

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has authorized the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to tap and trace calls and messages. The language of the notification suggests these new powers are absolute and unquestionable, posing a serious breach of citizens’ right to privacy. This notification is part of a series of government actions as legal cases against members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) proceed in top courts of the country. Punjab’s defamation law and the ban on the social media app X are other examples.

While the context of these decisions is strong, aiming to punish the perpetrators of the May 9 incident, such vague policies will have long-term fallout. Intelligence agencies need to tap and track communications between people allegedly posing a threat to national security, but the rights of the larger population are also coming under attack. The notification could be more specific, with powers derived from a process, such as an independent body screening and allowing the intelligence agencies to track communications of those whose activities are suspicious.

Globally, intelligence agencies are tasked with preemptively spying on any attempts to derail national security and interests, both from within the country and outside. These agencies have extraordinary powers but are regulated and kept in check. Pakistan lacks such a mechanism, increasing the likelihood of abuse of power. For a long time, audio leaks were a mystery, making it difficult to decipher who tapped the calls and conversations.

One could argue that influential people will be monitored under the new powers, and the general public has nothing to worry about. However, the unfortunate truth is that the notification does not make any such distinction. Recording calls and messages is a sensitive matter, and the policy regarding it must be detailed, not simply a notification. Constitutionally, the notification violates the basic right to privacy and must be reconsidered.