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Open Letter: Google in Pakistan - Local and global civil society raises eyebrows

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, 29 June 2012 (APC)

Shahzad Ahmad - Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Shahzad Ahmad – Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0The Association for Progressive Communications (APC), an international network and non-profit organisation that believes the internet is a global public good, and APC’s member group in Pakistan, Bytes For All, is deeply concerned about Google’s latest business trip to Pakistan.

On 14 June 2012, Google’s executive chairman, Dr. Eric Schmidt, met with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. Both men – assisted by a group of experts – discussed technology projects to be initiated in Pakistan with the help of and in partnership with Google.

Respected Pakistani and international news outlets have reported that among the topics discussed were the creation of citizen databases and the development of a surveillance support system to curb terrorism in tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Representatives of the Pakistani government and Google both wish for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. However, APC and Bytes For All are concerned about Google’s latest statements in Pakistan, as reported in the media. A clarification to these statements is still awaited.

At a difficult time, when civil society in Pakistan is struggling with the Pakistan government’s stance on online freedom of expression and internet related human rights issues, such media reports are a great cause of concern.

APC and Bytes For All have been closely following the developments in Pakistan, such as the blocking of YouTube, Facebook and several other popular social media platforms in the past. We were also alerted by the nationwide ban on Twitter imposed by Pakistan’s Minister for Information Technology on 20 May 2012, not to mention a province-wide communication blockage that shut down all cellular phone networks, thereby stripping the people of Balochistan from their communication rights.

Considering these problematic issues on the Pakistani internet and Google’s commitment to internet-related human rights, particularly freedom of expression online, that is made explicit with the company’s participation in the Global Network Initiative, APC and Bytes for all call on Google to kindly clarify the following questions:

1. During the June 14 meeting in Pakistan, Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying, “Building up and maintaining of databases through use of information technology was crucial to deal with security issues as well as law and order situation.” What and whose data should be retained in order to deal with security situations?

2. What is Google’s official position on data retention and collection in the context of its activities in Pakistan and, how does this relate to the privacy rights of Google users in Pakistan? What is Google’s official position on the use of [Google held] data by nation states?

3. What is Google’s official commitment to the people of Pakistan with regards to the secure handling of their data and information?

We look forward to your early reply.

Joy Liddicoat
joy@apc.org and http://rights.apc.org

Shahzad Ahmad
Cell. +92 333 5236060
info@bytesforall.pk and http://www.bytesforall.pk

(FIN/2012)

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