ISLAMABAD: “Phone hacking has become so easy that if you leave your mobile phone somewhere and go to the washroom, I can connect and hack it before you return,” the head of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) told the Islamabad High Court (IHC), on Thursday.

This was the explanation provided by PTA Chairman Major-General Hafeezur Rehman to a bench headed by IHC Justice Babar Sattar during a hearing on the issue of audio leaks.

In earlier reports submitted to the court, the country’s spy agencies had also contended that phone calls could be tapped using mobile apps and viruses, and intelligence agencies were unable to trace the source of the hacking.

On Thursday, Maj-Gen Rehman told the court that 90 per cent of mobile phones contain ‘viruses’ that can operate inbuilt cameras, compromising users’ privacy.

Maj-Gen Rehman says viruses and malware such as Pegasus can compromise phones ‘within a minute’

Sharing an account from a conference in Barcelona, where he was one of the keynote speakers, Maj-Gen Rehman said that an Israeli company had introduced a software called Pegasus that can “hack a phone within a minute”.

He said that PTA enforced all provisions of the licence for telecom operators, except the provision of legal interception.

Justice Sattar then asked whether the PTA was saying that audio recording or phone tapping was being done illegally, and quizzed the counsel for telecom operators on whether there was a mechanism for legal interception.

The counsel replied that PTA had installed a system, but it was at the disposal of the federal government.

He explained that legal interception does not pertain to cellular services, as it is the domain of the PTA, federal government and relevant agencies.

The judge then asked which agency is empowered to issue orders for phone tapping.

The counsel replied that telecom operators don’t know about this and they act only in accordance with the direction issued by the PTA.

Justice Sattar pointed out that telecom operators share the individuals’ locations with law enforcement agencies, whereas, under an agreement with consumers, they are under obligation to keep their personal information confidential.

He then asked under which law they share information relating to a consumer with the relevant agencies.

The court then directed the telecom operators to submit a detailed report by the next date of hearing.

Additional Attorney General Barrister Munawar Iqbal Duggal argued that the federal government had submitted its report to the extent of petitioner Bushra Bibi and Najamus Saqib, son of former chief justice Saqib Nisar.

Expressing displeasure, Justice Sattar remarked that he had sought the report as to under what authority the government had allowed the phone tapping.

He said the court wants to understand the framework of data sharing with the agencies.

He wondered if telecom operators could share someone’s personal information with any agency without the permission of the federal government.

PTA lawyer Irfan Qadir replied that the regulator can take action against such cellular company for breach of privacy.

Pemra Chairman Mirza Saleem Baig informed the court that the Council of Complaints had become active and they can take action against any television channel for airing unverified and personal conversation of citizens.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

X post facto
Updated 19 Apr, 2024

X post facto

Our decision-makers should realise the harm they are causing.
Insufficient inquiry
19 Apr, 2024

Insufficient inquiry

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies....
Melting glaciers
19 Apr, 2024

Melting glaciers

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into...
IMF’s projections
Updated 18 Apr, 2024

IMF’s projections

The problems are well-known and the country is aware of what is needed to stabilise the economy; the challenge is follow-through and implementation.
Hepatitis crisis
18 Apr, 2024

Hepatitis crisis

THE sheer scale of the crisis is staggering. A new WHO report flags Pakistan as the country with the highest number...
Never-ending suffering
18 Apr, 2024

Never-ending suffering

OVER the weekend, the world witnessed an intense spectacle when Iran launched its drone-and-missile barrage against...