What do you think of Pakistan 6

Interview with Nighat Dad: "Why are innocent Pakistanis killed by drones controlled from Germany?"

At the press conference of the Intelexit campaign last week, the Pakistani activist and lawyer Nighat Dad spoke. In an emotional speech she commented on the effects of the drone war on the everyday life of the Pakistani population and called on secret service employees to exit. We then talked to her about the work of the Digital Rights Foundation she founded, mass surveillance in Pakistan and Germany's role in the drone war.

Nighat Dad is the founder and executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation and a pioneer in the fight for open access to the Internet in Pakistan. In 2015 she was named “Next Generation Leader” by TIME magazine for her work to empower women against harassment and threats on the Internet.

There is also an German version of this interview available. An English version is also available.

What is the Digital Rights Foundation doing and which campaigns are you currently working on?

Nighat Dad: We are currently working on an anti-surveillance campaign as the Snowden revelations show that the NSA is monitoring 55 million cell phone lines in Pakistan.

But we also look at the Pakistani secret services, which monitor citizens, the judiciary and politicians without any accountability or transparency. We hold the government responsible for their actions by informing senators and parliamentarians. There is not a great deal of attention and education about surveillance in Pakistan. Most people see it as a normal aspect of intelligence work. Nobody questions that. But after the Snowden revelations that changed, so that senators and parliamentarians are addressing the issue.

We also offer IT security training for journalists, activists and civil society groups because they are increasingly using the Internet for their work. Many use the internet without knowing anything about online security. We tell them about surveillance, how closely they are being watched, what steps they can take to prevent surveillance, and other digital security topics.

You are a trained lawyer with a focus on women's rights. What challenges and problems do Pakistani women and girls face online?

Nighat Dad: At the moment there is no legislation on cybercrime or laws that offer women protection against harassment, for example against threats of rape or if their rights of freedom are restricted by harassment.

First, women often do not know about legal remedies or any laws that protect them. Second, they have no idea what to do in case of harassment.

So you're trying to help them through training?

Nighat Dad: Yes, we have started a large training program at universities and colleges where we talk to young women. More and more women are using cell phones in Pakistan because it is increasingly accepted by their families. Usually, for cultural reasons, fathers and brothers do not allow women to own cell phones. I remember not being allowed to have a cell phone when I was studying at university. So it is a real challenge for these women to get access to this technology. However, in the event of harassment and threats, they cannot simply go to their families and tell them about it. They don't know how to deal with such situations and so they come to us.

Are encryption techniques a topic in your training?

Nighat Dad: Encryption is banned in Pakistan. The laws say you need a permit from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to be able to encrypt, which doesn't make any sense to me at all.

Do you know of cases where someone has been charged with encryption?

Nighat Dad: I am not aware of any public cases, but I do know that the ISPs received an order from the PTA to monitor those who encrypt.

How do you deal with this situation personally?

Nighat Dad: Sometimes I use encryption when I feel like I have to secure my communications or when I feel threatened ... There is just this draconian cybercrime bill that restricts some of our constitutional freedoms. Some activists, including myself, are particularly active on the other hand. So I feel that I am being specifically observed. For example, when I write about this bill on Twitter, there is always some sort of Twitter troll army ready to attack me. So right now I feel like I'm being watched and don't use it [encryption].

The Pakistani government is currently making efforts to expand the capabilities of the surveillance services. What are the plans exactly?

Nighat Dad: Yeah, that's right. Privacy International released a report about a month ago showing that Pakistani intelligence plans to emulate the NSA's surveillance programs. This is not only limited to Pakistani internet users, but also outside of Pakistan's borders. So it's a major plan that also costs a lot of money. The published documents show that the plans go back to 2013. I think they are currently being implemented.

Is there any public discussion about this in Pakistan?

Nighat Dad: Fortunately, it is not only civil society that is publicly addressing this plan, a senator has also recently adopted it. He tabled a motion asking the government to question the intelligence community about the plan. All over the world, including Pakistan, intelligence agencies operate outside of legal control and obligations. I think now is the time to hold them accountable for whatever they do.

We know, thanks to the Snowden revelations, that metadata is being used to select targets for the drone attacks. How does this work?

Nighat Dad: It is well known that the NSA's most widely used tactic for drone attacks is geolocation, in which target persons are identified using only cell phones and SIM cards. Former drone pilot Brandon Bryant also made it clear what role metadata play in drone warfare and how thousands of civilians have already been killed due to their vulnerability to errors. The NSA has no mechanism to verify its targets, resulting in the killing of innocents.

For example, in 2011 there was an incident at a traditional gathering (jirga) to resolve local issues in the tribal region of Waziristan with more than a hundred tribal elders. Most of the drone attacks occur in this region. The meeting was attacked with drones because some of the men had beards. 44 tribal elders were killed. This example shows how metadata and characteristics are used to select people as targets.

Is that why you spoke at the Intelexit campaign press conference today?

Nighat Dad: Yes, because these secret operations by intelligence agencies and governments are on the rise. But you don't want to be held responsible for it. Take Germany, for example: Nobody questions energetically enough why the federal government is providing a base for the US drone attacks.

I feel a lot of freedom here in Berlin. After all, the city has raised the issue of surveillance in the past and has set a very good example for other governments through surveys by the NSA. At the same time, however, the federal government allows the Americans a base to control the drone attacks.

So you think that the German government has a duty to change something?

Nighat Dad: Of course, why not? The media here should put even more pressure on the government to justify toleration of the Ramstein base. Why are innocent Pakistanis killed by drones controlled from Germany? These are the questions that need to be asked! We have to hold them accountable!

What would you say to the people who work for the secret services?

Nighat Dad: I think you should know that these drone attacks are not video games, they are killing real people. Those who are dead are dead! Those who survive are injured. The victims do not get help from anywhere.

The drone attacks affect the communities because children cannot go out to play, cannot go to school. Mothers and fathers are afraid to let their children out of the house, people cannot go to weddings, attend funerals or hold traditional tribal gatherings because they are easily targeted by drones. The employees of these secret services should know that there is blood on their hands.

What do you think of the Intelexit campaign?

Nighat Dad: I think it's a very good campaign because it gives employees the opportunity to get out of these bloody endeavors. It would be wonderful to see how your "little" storyline has a real impact on the communities and the lives of the people of Pakistan. If they have the heart and the brain, they will definitely use this opportunity to get out of the authorities.

About the author

Simon Rebiger

Simon was a journalist in the editorial team of netzpolitik.org from autumn 2015 to March 2019. He is interested in surveillance, data protection and the social impact of new technologies. He tweets as @s_phre and can be reached by email, also encrypted [57A7 8D4D 3E70 30AE A2F2 A208 616F 6CEE 7A1D 3B27].
Published 05/10/2015 at 5:56 PM