Govt blames ‘technical’ issues, system installations for recent internet outages

Published January 22, 2024
Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

The caretaker government on Monday blamed “technical” issues and system installations for recent internet outages across the country, saying that there was “no guarantee” that such incidents won’t occur in the future.

“The economy, businesses and prestige of the country are more important for us […] it is important for us to take care of them,” interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi said at a press conference in Islamabad.

However, he said one could wish that internet outages didn’t take place but there was no guarantee for that.

The minister’s remarks came in response to a question regarding recurring interruptions on social media platforms during the PTI’s online events. In the most recent occurrence, internet services were interrupted an hour before the PTI’s “virtual power show” on Saturday.

Netblocks, a global internet monitor, had tweeted that live metrics showed “a nation-scale disruption to social media platforms across Pak­is­tan, including X/Twitter, Fac­e­book, Instagram and YouTube”. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had said the internet was disrupted due to a “technical fault”.

During a press conference alongside PTA Director General Ahmed Shamim Pirzada and FIA Cybercrime Director Operations Waqaruddin Syed today, Solangi was asked about internet outages and whether the government would resolve to prevent such instances during the February 8 general election.

“As per my information, the reasons [for disruptions] are technical and there are some matters of system installations involved as well,” Solangi responded.

Meanwhile, Pirzada attributed the outages to “technical glitches” and system upgradation. “You can face this for the next two to three months,” he added, recalling that such instances took place previously as well.

Over 500 social media accounts involved in anti-judiciary campaign identified

Meanwhile, Solangi said the caretaker government had identified 500 social media accounts involved in running a “malicious campaign” against the judiciary, adding that it was also monitoring several other similar accounts.

“An investigation is under way. We are monitoring hundreds of accounts and action will be taken against them,” he said, adding that these accounts were being operated from both within and outside the country.

Last week, the interior ministry constituted a five-member joint investigation team (JIT) to “ascertain facts behind a malicious social media campaign” against Supreme Court judges.

The panel — formed under Section 30 (power to investigate) of the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 — was convened by the additional director general of the Federal Investiga­tion Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime wing, according to an interior ministry notification.

It also comprised representatives of the Intelli­gence Bureau, Inter-Serv­ices Intelli­ge­nce, the Pak­is­tan Telecom­m­u­nication Authority (PTA), and the deputy inspector general of Islamabad police. The team can co-opt any other member if required.

The JIT was formed as Pakistan’s premier legal bodies came to the aid of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and the Supreme Court against the backdrop of a “smear campaign” that erupted on social media soon after the Jan 13 judgement — when the apex court upheld the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to revoke the PTI’s iconic electoral symbol, the cricket bat, and declare its intra-party polls “unconstitutional”.

Today, Solangi elaborated that the body was formed against a “malicious” social media campaign and it was doing its job.

He read out loud Article 19 of the Constitution, which states that “every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, 33[commission of] 33 or incitement to an offence”.

“But there are some who spread lies as a business,” the minister lamented. He asserted that the law did not discriminate and anyone who went against it would be dealt with accordingly.

“As we head towards elections, fake ‘information’ will increase,” Solangi warned, urging the public to verify content and information before sharing it onward.

Meanwhile, PTA’s Pirzada said the authority had the right to block and remove content that was against the “interest and glory of Islam, integrity, security and defence of Pakistan, public order, morality and contempt of court” under Section 37 of Peca.

“Any person can report different types of content on the PTA website,” he said, adding that the watchdog addressed all the complaints.

Regarding social media complaints, the official said the watchdog held meetings with social media companies every three or four months during which reservations and complaints were shared. Pirzada added that as the reach of social media widened with time, there was a need for awareness pertaining to the authenticity of content.

Separately, FIA’s Waqaruddin assured that the agency was on alert and would not delay taking action against “anti-state elements”.

“We will not allow anyone to eliminate the trust of the public in state institutions and use social media applications like a weapon against the country,” he asserted, adding that all the FIA police stations had been directed to take immediate action in any such instance.

At the outset of the press conference, Solangi said that the caretakers had taken their oath under the Constitution and the country too was being run as per the Constitution. “And the preamble [of the Constitution] says that the country will be run by its elected representatives […] God willing, we are very close to that day,” he said.

“On February 8, Thursday, the people of Pakistan will elect their representatives and a new legal and constitutional government will come forth,” he added.

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