Federal authorities put on notice for reported data breach of 115m mobile phone users

Published April 24, 2020
The petitioner also submitted that such an inquiry be made public in the larger public interest. — AFP/File
The petitioner also submitted that such an inquiry be made public in the larger public interest. — AFP/File

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Thursday issued notices to the federal authorities on a petition seeking investigation into reports about data breach of 115 million mobile phone users from Pakistan and its sale on the darknet.

The two-judge SHC bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar put the secretaries of information technology and telecommunication and interior, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and the chief executive officer of Rewterz, a specialised cybersecurity services firm in Pakistan, on notice for May 13.

The petitioner, Advocate Tariq Mansoor, approached the SHC and contended that there were reports of Rewterz about personal data breach of 115 million Pakistani mobile phone users allegedly by telecom service providers and the same was being shown on the darknet by some cybercriminals, who were demanding 300 BTC ($2.1 billion) for the sale of the data.

He further argued that the data, including full names, complete addresses and CNICs of cellular users, was reportedly put for online sale and it was very alarming and affecting the privacy of citizens.

The petitioner submitted that Senator Rehman Malik, chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, had also reportedly directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe these reports and submit a consolidated report to the committee.

SHC also issues notice to Sindh government over blanket ban on pillion-riding

However, he contended that it was not properly notified by the federal government and, therefore, the report might not be made public, adding that it was purely a matter of public importance, infringing fundamental rights of citizens.

The petitioner further submitted that because of the ongoing lockdown in the country prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, a majority of citizens had been using mobile phones to register themselves for the federal government’s welfare programme Ehsaas and thus millions of citizens’ personal data was prima facie at stake and it needed a formal inquiry.

He asked the court to issue directives to the ministries of information technology and telecommunication and interior to immediately notify a high-powered commission of inquiry under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 2017, preferably comprising members of the FIA, PTA, Nadra, Federal Board Revenue as well as representatives of the civil and military intelligence agencies to investigate these reports and prosecute the culprits and their abettors in the data breach and leak under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2017, the Official Secrets Act and other applicable laws.

The petitioner also submitted that such an inquiry be made public in the larger public interest and as required under Article 19-A (right to information) of the Constitution. He also sought a directive to the PTA chairman to protect the customers’ data, including that of the 165.41m cellular subscribers, from theft.

He also asked the court to direct the respondents for complete legislation and code of conduct for personal data protection of public and customers.

Ban on pillion riding

The same bench on Thursday issued notices to the provincial authorities to file comments by April 30 on a petition challenging a complete ban on pillion riding.

A journalist petitioned the SHC and contended that it was unprecedented that the provincial government put a complete ban on pillion riding also barring journalists, women and children.

Impleading the Sindh chief secretary, home secretary, provincial police officer and others as respondents, petitioner Umair Anjum argued that the journalist community was facing severe hardship in performing their professional duties due to the ban on pillion riding.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2020

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