Pakistan govt authorises ISI to trace and intercept calls for ‘national security’
This move comes as the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has slapped a ban on social media platforms, including X (formerly Twitter), citing national security concerns.

at 1:00 am
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Islamabad, July 9: Clamping down further on individual freedoms and liberty, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Technology has authorised the country’s military intelligence agency – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – to trace and intercept calls and messages in the “interest of national security”.

According to the notification, the ISI has been authorised to record phone calls under Section 54 of the Pakistan Telecommunication Act 1996. It will be able to record any telecommunications system under the notification.

“The federal government in the interest of national security and in the apprehension of any offence is pleased to authorise the officers […] to be nominated from time to time by ISI to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any communication system,” the notification read.

This move comes as the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has slapped a ban on social media platforms, including X (formerly Twitter), citing national security concerns.

As per the notification, the authority to trace calls and messages is given to ISI officers of Grade 18 or above with the approval of the prime minister. According to the announcement, it will be possible to record mobile calls, WhatsApp calls, messages and other applications.

On June 30, Justice Babar Sattar of the Islamabad High Court had ruled in the audio leaks case of the son of former chief justice Saqib Nisar and Bushra Bibi that any kind of surveillance of citizens is illegal according to the law. The federal government is responsible for the surveillance of four million citizens through the system, while the prime minister and the cabinet are collectively and individually responsible for such mass surveillance, he ruled.

The court order said it hoped the prime minister will seek reports from the intelligence agencies and place the matter before the cabinet. The order further said the prime minister will be obliged to submit his report to the court in six weeks regarding the Lawful Management System.

“The prime minister will tell whether the surveillance of citizens is going on against the law and constitution,” the judge declared.

In May, Justice Babar Sattar had said that prima facie no state official was authorised to surveil citizens and anyone doing so or aiding such an endeavour would be “liable for offences”. He had also prohibited cellular companies from sharing citizens’ data with agencies.

However, in May, the ruling party had approved a draft to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 which suggested the establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority in its effort to tighten social media control so as to stop the spread of ‘misinformation’ in lieu of ‘national security’.

The government is also installing a national firewall on different internet service providers (ISPs) to rein in social media with filters capable of blocking unwanted content from reaching a wider audience. In particular, the firewall aims to identify and block content deemed harmful to national security, alongside considerations to regulate the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

The firewall will contain a keyword filtering system to detect content the government considers undesirable or prejudicial to national security etc. The filter will act like an information inspector. These kinds of posts will likely be camouflaged and will subsequently be made invisible to outside users. This will enable the government to monitor virtually all social media activity, including monitoring any dissenting voices and make their posts invisible.