Lawyers Condemn ISI's Mass Surveillance Role

The lawyers said that the government's actions are not only unconstitutional but also deeply disrespectful to a system which is supposed to be based on the rule of law

Lawyers Condemn ISI's Mass Surveillance Role

Hours after the government issued a Statutory Regulatory Order granting the country's powerful intelligence agency sweeping powers to surveil citizens en masse, some lawyers part of the apex body of the legal fraternity condemned the move.

As many as six members of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have condemned in a statement the government's notification allowing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to utilise a mass surveillance programme in the country that will allow it to intercept calls and messages while running "track and trace" mechanisms to track people and their phone calls.
Abid S. Zuberi, Shafqat Mehmood Chauhan, Chaudhry Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan, Munir Kaker, Shahab Sarki, M. Abid Hussein Saqi, and Tahir Faraz Abbasi were among the members who voiced their opposition to the government's drastic move.

"We strongly condemn the issuance of the notification SRO 1005(1)/2024 dated July 8, 2024, by the federal government," stated a press release issued by the six PBC members.

They noted that the government's gazetted notification authorises the ISI to intercept calls, messages, or trace calls through any telecommunication system as purportedly envisaged under Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996, in respect of national security.

"Such sweeping powers granted are alarming and unjustified," the statement said, adding that the notification directly violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

"It undermines the principles of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, which are the bedrock of our democratic society," they said.

They said the timing of this notification is particularly troubling, given the ongoing proceedings before the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court regarding the illegal taping of conversations between private individuals and, subsequently, their 'leaks' on social media. They added that the federal government's notification represents a blatant disregard for the rule of law and judicial independence.

The PBC members believe that the notification infringes upon the dignity and security of individuals, as enshrined in Article 9 (Security of Person) and Article 14 (Inviolability of Dignity of Man) of the Constitution.

"It also violates the right to life and the right to privacy."

The lawyers said that the government's actions are not only unconstitutional but also deeply disrespectful to a system which is supposed to be based on the rule of law.

"Moreover, the said notification is arbitrary and not bonafide as no criteria for intercepting of calls, messages and tracing has been laid down," they pointed out.

"The federal government has failed to provide a valid justification for the issuance of this notification," they contended, arguing further that the notification was purportedly issued in the interest of national security and the apprehension of any offence. 

"However, the government has not specified the circumstances or threats that necessitated such extreme measures." 

"This lack of transparency and accountability is unacceptable and raises serious concerns about the motives behind this notification," the six lawyers argued, adding that the notification was mala fide, arbitrary and totally unconstitutional.

Condemning defamatory campaign against Justice Jehangiri

The six lawyers also condemned the malicious and defamatory campaign launched against Justice Tariq Mehmood Jehangiri of the Islamabad High Court and the filing of a reference against him. 

"This campaign is driven by individuals with the aim to intimidate and blackmail independent judges." 

The press statement said the campaign was a direct attack on judicial independence and an affront to the dignity of the judiciary and the rule of law.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain