Despite Laws, Journalists And Their Data Remain Vulnerable

Despite Laws, Journalists And Their Data Remain Vulnerable
“I was arrested from my home in Lahore; it was surprising because I had no idea regarding my nomination in the case. The FIA had neither summoned me nor issued any notice before making the arrest,” said Bol News journalist Shahid Aslam, who was arrested on January 13 by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

Aslam was arrested based on an investigative story by US-based Pakistani journalist Ahmed Noorani, published in Fact Focus in November 2022 that reported on the wealth of Army Chief Qamar Bajwa’s family.

Following the publication of this report, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar ordered an investigation into the ‘violation of tax laws and breach of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) data- and affix responsibility.”

Aslam was shifted to Rawalpindi Central Jail, also known as the Adiala Jail, on remand for 14 days. During the case hearing on January 17, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) requested the court for further remand to retrieve forensic data from the laptop and mobile telephone, which had been sent for forensics.

According to the press reports, the prosecutor asked why Aslam wasn’t sharing his laptop password.

Shah Khawar, an expert in legal affairs said “As per FBR rules, the details of any person cannot be provided to anyone by FBR, but publishing or broadcasting such details is not a crime, and Shahid Aslam is not bound to disclose his source.”

Unfortunately, Aslam’s case is not unique.

Bol TV journalist Imran Riaz Khan was asked to share his Twitter and YouTube account credentials. The FIA registered FIR against BOL TV Anchor Imran Riaz Khan on February 02 under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PECA) 2016. The FIA requested a 14-day remand to obtain Khan’s accounts’ Twitter and YouTube passwords. However, the plea was dismissed by the Lahore court on February 07.

Similarly, Ammad Yousuf was arrested from his DHA residence in Karachi on August 10 following the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) in Karachi for “abetting in a conspiracy with Shahbaz Gill to cause a mutiny in the military.”

Ammad was also asked to provide passwords for their mobile during the investigation, which he refused.

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) condemned these actions, stating that they violate the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021. According to PPF, asking for the passwords or disclosure of sources blatantly violates the recently enacted Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021, which guarantees the privacy of journalists’ works and sources.

The investigation agency must also keep in mind the law, which clearly states that a journalist is guaranteed a right to privacy under the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021, which states:

“The Government shall ensure that no person, officer, agency or institution unlawfully or arbitrarily interferes with the right to privacy of any journalist, reporter or media professional and their home, correspondence (including electronic mail) and family.

The Government shall ensure that no journalist, reporter, or media professional is forced, induced, compelled, coerced, or threatened to disclose their sources of information by any person, officer, agency, authority, or institution save without due process of the law.

The Government shall safeguard the confidentiality of sources of journalists or media professionals.”

The President of the Balochistan Union of Journalists, Irfan Saeed, said the journalists are not bound to provide data. “No state agency or authority can compel a journalist to reveal his source and provide a laptop or phone password. This is a violation of internationally recognized journalistic principles.”

These cases highlight the vulnerability of journalists’ data and the potential consequences of investigative journalism in Pakistan. Despite the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021, journalists have been asked to provide their laptop and mobile phone passwords during investigations, violating their right to privacy and source protection.

This situation is alarming for journalists who work to uncover the truth about those in power. To protect sources, journalists must assess the potential risks and consequences of speaking out, take responsibility for digital defenses, use encryption, securely delete data, and ensure that any digital Dropbox is secure and anonymous.

In today’s digital age, digital security is a primary concern for independent journalists. The Perugia Principles for Journalists Working with Whistleblowers in the Digital Age offer several recommendations to protect sources, including assessing potential consequences and risks, taking responsibility for digital defenses by using encryption, publishing original documents and datasets safely, securely deleting data provided by sources, and ensuring that any digital Dropbox is secure and offers anonymity and protection for whistleblowers and high-risk content.

The vulnerability of journalists’ data and sources in Pakistan is a significant concern for independent journalism. The Government’s violation of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021 and the demand for access to journalists’ devices highlight the potential consequences of investigative journalism. Journalists must protect their sources and themselves, including using digital defenses and securely deleting data provided by authorities.