ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom Division on Monday informed the Senate Committee on Delegated Legislation that intercepting telephone calls is lawful and should not be taken as a serious matter because it is practiced worldwide.

However, the chair of the committee, Mohammad Daud Khan Achakzai of the Awami National Party (ANP), said in other countries calls cannot be intercepted without getting permission from the court.

However, in Pakistan it was frequently done without following any rule and procedure and then the people were blackmailed.

The committee was discussing an amendment to the Pakistan Telecom Act 1996, allowing the Special Communication Organisation (SCO) to launch mobile phone services across the country.

IT ministry official says call interception is practiced worldwide

The members believed that foreign companies were not only transferring revenue out of the country but also had access to calls.

But member telecom Mudassar Hussain from the ministry said interception of calls was not a violation of the law as some intelligence agencies were allowed to do it.

“In case of a murder, the calls of the suspects are intercepted. Moreover, agencies such as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) can intercept calls to ensure national security. Telecom companies are bound to provide the facility at their own expense and it is not a violation of the law,” he claimed.

Commenting on the opinion of the chair, director (legal) Nasir Ayyaz said even in Pakistan there was a requirement of the court permission before intercepting telephone calls.

“However, one agency has been authorised to intercept calls. Article 4 of the law says such things cannot be done without authorisation but here I believe the law is not being violated,” he said.

Later, Mr Achakzai told Dawn that though according to the ministry there was a law under which calls cannot be intercepted without court permission but calls were frequently intercepted.

He said: “I believe it is a weakness of the government and parliament that laws are not implemented. The calls of almost every important personality are intercepted and now I have gained experience and know that my call is being intercepted as a sound of ‘click’ can be heard just after receiving a call.

“It is deplorable that not only calls are intercepted but after that people are blackmailed too.”

Mr Achakzai said though it was claimed that calls were intercepted to ensure national security, the parliament was never informed what the benefit of intercepting telephone calls was.

“I believe that interception of calls does not serve the country or it has less benefit compared to the harms it causes,” he said.

Ministry directed to submit report on SCO

Earlier, Mr Achakzai directed the ministry to have a meeting with all the stakeholders and submit a report by July 31 stating how the SCO can be allowed to serve across the country.

He said it was claimed that the SCO had the mandate to function only in Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK but it has been requested to lay fibre optics cable for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Gilgit-Baltistan to Rawalpindi.

Senator Kalsoom Parveen said it was unfair that foreign cellular companies were doing business in the country but local companies were not allowed to launch their services.

The SCO is a public sector organisation which was established in 1976 to develop, operate and maintain telecom services in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

It has developed a massive IT and telecom infrastructure, including laying over 2500 kilometres optical fibre cable network across the entire length and breadth of the area.

However, now the SCO is demanding an amendment to the Act to allow it to work across the country and launch a countrywide mobile phone service with a number of concessions.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2017