A screenshot of the Chaukas app’s login page.
A screenshot of the Chaukas app’s login page.

KARACHI: In order to report and fight hate speech in the country, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) has launched a smartphone app ‘Chaukas’ under its Tat’heer programme, a cyber counterterrorism drive that includes mapping radical content available on the internet.

The app was launched at the Nacta headquarters on Monday by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal. The app has been launched under Tat’heer’s Surfsafe portal.

The main aim of the app, according to Nacta, is to help people identify hate content, giving the user options to send a photograph, video, banners and activities or written material which will then be passed on to the relevant law enforcement agencies. Tat’heer, which means “to sanitise”, has been conceived to counter radicalism and extremism on the internet — which roughly 35 million Pakistanis have access to.

However it does not discuss privacy policies, data protection or even what is hate speech

According to the app’s introduction page, it is an online reporting portal for Pakistanis to report extremist online content freely, securely and anonymously. Apart from the community, netizens and e-scouts, the academia, intelligentsia, NGOs/INGOs and independent consultants may also step forward.

However, Digital Rights Foundation’s Nighat Dad claimed that the app was not easy to use.

“When we heard about the app, we downloaded it and checked it out,” she said while talking to Dawn, adding that they were cautious while installing the app as it could not be accessed without sharing a phone number or signing in through social media. [The Nacta website, on the other hand, suggests that users can log in anonymously].

Ms Dad claimed that the app did not mention any privacy policies or data protection.

“Sure, someone can record an audio or send them a video — these are good features — but it doesn’t offer anything in terms of what describes hate speech or the law...there’s nothing there about protecting the complainants.

“The user is very visible. They claim that they will forward complaints to LEAs. What if a person complains and they are called to the police station? How does it work? What law is applicable here? It seems like a parachute solution,” she added.

According to Ms Dad, there is an option to log out but there is no option to delete data from their database. “They can use my phone number and give it to the telecom company and find my real time location and LEAs have the privilege to ask for these things in case it is related to national security,” she explained.

Nacta’s national coordinator Ihsan Ghani said that the procedure was pretty straight forward.

“Anything that is reported to us will then be passed on to a committee which will look at the content and see if it falls into the category of hate speech. Since we are not an enforcement agency, we will then forward the complaint to the Federal Investigation Agency or others,” he said.

“Hate speech is a very real problem here and it is also a part of the National Action Plan. I had been thinking about it in terms of our helpline [1717] which had an option for people to report hate speech, but we didn’t get that good a response. I wanted to take reporting hate speech into the public sphere and this is when the minister [Ahsan Iqbal] suggested that we should come up with an app,” he said.

Discussing what constitutes hate speech, Mr Ghani said that they were adhering to the Anti-Terrorism Act and a Supreme Court ruling which defined hate speech along with constitutional provisions on free speech.

The Chaukas app is available and free to download on the Google play and Apple stores.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2018

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