Pakistan ranks as “Below Average” on the PPI scale for hosting VPN servers, mainly due to its restrictive internet policies and surveillance activities. The country’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) has been criticized for granting the government sweeping powers to surveil online activity, restrict content, and obtain user data without judicial oversight. Moreover, Pakistan has implemented strict copyright laws and has a history of clamping down on P2P file-sharing and streaming activities, making it a less-than-ideal location for a VPN server.
- Minimal copyright enforcement
- No meaningful laws protect citizens’ digital privacy rights.
- Government conducts widespread surveillance
- Intelligence agencies monitor activities of journalists, activists and opposition with impunity.
- Data retention laws require ISPs to keep users’ logs
- Lack of transparency in censorship and surveillance regimes.
- Blocking of communication platforms and forced data localization reduce access to secure online tools.
- No practical way for citizens to protect their privacy or challenge privacy violations.
Freedom of Expression and Censorship
Freedom of expression and media freedom face serious challenges in Pakistan. The government maintains various laws that restrict free speech, including broad blasphemy laws punishable by death and strict anti-terrorism laws that have been used to curb political dissent. The government engages in censorship of social media and blocks certain websites, especially those seen as criticizing religious or political authorities. Journalists and bloggers reporting on sensitive issues face intimidation, violence and prosecution under restrictive laws. In recent court rulings, Pakistani courts have upheld limitations on free speech in the name of public order and morality. Despite constitutional protections, internet and mobile networks are often shut down during political protests and demonstrations. Overall, Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, indicating significant challenges to freedom of expression and media freedom.
P2P and Torrenting
Pakistan has minimal enforcement of copyright law and intellectual property protections. While the government censors some internet content and blocks major torrent sites, peer-to-peer file sharing and downloading of pirated media is widespread in Pakistan. The weak copyright regime and lack of enforcement has allowed a thriving market for pirated DVDs, software, music, ebooks, and streaming media boxes throughout Pakistan.
Though Pakistan passed an Electronic Transactions Ordinance in 2002 prohibiting unauthorized distribution and duplication of digital works, the law has rarely been enforced. Pakistan remains on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Priority Watch List for worldwide copyright violations. The lack of IP protections deters major western media and tech companies from officially operating in Pakistan’s market. However, affordable pirated options are widely available, and online streaming and torrent sites are popular for accessing the latest blocked content from India, the U.S. and elsewhere. Overall, while censorship in Pakistan is common, copyright protections are nearly non-existent – much to the benefit of those accessing and sharing content through unauthorized means.
Government Surveillance and Data Retention
The government of Pakistan engages in extensive surveillance of citizens’ digital communications and online activities. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016, which was enacted to address cybercrime, has been criticized for its broad provisions that grant the government sweeping powers to monitor and access online communications and data without robust judicial oversight. This has led to fears that the government could exploit these powers to suppress dissent, target political opponents, and infringe on individual privacy. Moreover, Pakistan’s Fair Trial Act of 2012 allows security agencies to intercept private communications for the purpose of collecting evidence in cases related to terrorism, further exacerbating concerns about unchecked government surveillance. The lack of a comprehensive data protection law in the country also means that citizens’ personal information may be vulnerable to misuse by both government and non-government entities. As a result, there is a pressing need for legislative reforms that balance the government’s security concerns with the protection of citizens’ privacy rights and the principles of transparency and accountability.
The Pakistani government has taken very few substantive steps to strengthen digital privacy protections for its citizens. An existing Personal Data Protection Bill has been stuck in the legislative process for years with little progress towards passage into law, and critics argue it does not go far enough. The government announced plans in 2018 to form a National Data Protection Authority to set data protection standards, but the authority has yet to be established and it is unclear if it will provide meaningful protections. Civil society organizations have pushed for years for strong data protection and privacy laws, an independent privacy regulatory body, and more transparency around government surveillance, but the Pakistani government has been reluctant to rein in its own surveillance powers or increase transparency around intelligence agencies’ digital monitoring activities, citing security concerns. In summary, while some proposed actions have been announced by the Pakistani government, very little concrete progress has actually been made to enact new laws, establish oversight bodies or implement policies that would strengthen digital privacy protections for citizens and limit invasive government surveillance.
VPN servers in Pakistan: