Pakistan: Bloggers and journalists to duck digital threats

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By FD for APCNews

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, 12 September 2012

Photo credit: Internews Network - Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Photo credit: Internews Network – Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0“Pakistan is among the world’s most dangerous places for journalists,” reads a report recently produced and published by Bytes For All, Pakistan. Based on a research survey commissioned by Internews, the report takes a hard look at the awareness Pakistani journalists and bloggers have of their own digital security. Online communications being the norm for a growing majority of news makers, the report is a welcome wake-up call for all those wondering if they are safe online.

Pakistan has about 20 million internet users out of a population of 176 million. The survey conducted on an equal number of men and women in 2012 by the independent ICT & human rights organisation Bytes For All, reveals that most journalists are among those 20 million. In fact, “nearly 81% of respondents use the internet for story research, with over half reporting heavy use”, states the report.

On a day-to-day-basis, journalists and bloggers in Pakistan face hardships such as “phone tapping, physical surveillance, computer hacking, threats to family and friends, the possibility of losing their jobs, and being exiled”, says the report. “Threats to their personal safety and censorship of their writings,” is unfortunately a growing reality here, admits Shahzad Ahmad of BytesForAll.

The statement by Ahmad seems to stick with one of the most striking revelations of the ‘Digital Security and Journalists’ report. “When asked whether their work as a journalist or blogger had caused them any security concerns, most respondents (73.1%) said it had. When asked to specify what they meant by security concerns, the majority of respondents (59.7%) replied ‘personal safety’, followed by ‘security of family’ (12.9%) and ‘security of information’ (11.3%).”

If threats to physical integrity remain on of the main concerns – there is a reason for that.(Pakistan ranks 4th in 2011 for the number of journalists killed). The truth is that in Pakistan, online threats are fast-growing reality.

The Telecommunication Authority (PTA) repeatedly banned blogs and websites that host content critical of the government. Respondents mentioned several examples of online news sources, especially in the region of Balochistan, not accessible in Pakistan due to a ban imposed by PTA. As reporters share personal information via social media sites, identity theft is also on the rise. It is also expected that “attempts to infiltrate and steal data from computers that are connected to the internet will become more sophisticated and more effective,” the report indicates.

Journalists, like the general public, are not necessarily sophisticated with regard to how they use the new online communication tools safely and securely. Survey respondents for instance believed that using a strong password to log into a computer or a website, as well as using anti-virus software were somewhat helpful to mitigate online threats. “Most said they did not know about the level of security offered by the much more powerful tools of encryption, IP blocking, anti-censorship tools, or VPNs,” the report states. “These findings indicate that journalists’ and bloggers’ weak digital security practices stem from a lack of awareness, and could be improved with appropriate training,” the report concludes.

Apart from pointing at the lack of awareness about digital security tools, the report found that journalists and bloggers need a stronger grasp of Pakistani laws on privacy and the right to information, as well as their constitutional rights to freedom of information, speech and expression. “It is by connecting our human rights on the internet as bloggers, citizens and journalists that we will make some progress in Pakistan,” concludes BytesForAll’s Ahmad.

More information

APC’s Connect Your Rights! Campaign: http://rights.apc.org
Digital Security and Journalists report: https://www.internews.org/sites/default/files/resources/Internews_PK_Secure_Journalist_2012-08.pdf

(END/2012)

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