Security breach

Editorial Board
September 26, 2022

The data dump of ‘audio leaks’ – purportedly of the Prime Minister’s Office – should raise serious questions about what seems to be an alarming security breach that...

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The data dump of ‘audio leaks’ – purportedly of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) – should raise serious questions about what seems to be an alarming security breach that must be investigated at the highest level. The content of the audio files aside, the most important questions are: i) who was bugging rooms or equipment at the PMO?; ii) who leaked these conversations (some even saying they’re available on the darknet)?; iii) does this not compromise the security of the country since the PM’s Office would be where extremely sensitive information is shared and decisions related to national security are taken? So what happens now? If something like this were to take place in any other country of the world, with what sounds like state officials of the highest level not only being bugged but then the audio files also allegedly being sold, investigations would be held, security protocols rethought, and heads rolled. If the ‘bugging’ is not linked to the ‘leaking’ then has there been a high-level hack somewhere that evidently knew of the bugging? Where were these conversations being recorded and if they could be hacked, does this mean that the PMO is not the only place being bugged and thus more confidential conversations can also be hacked and subsequently leaked?

Both government and the people have almost reconciled over the years about life in a security state where privacy – especially in government – is not a guarantee. Even so, while illegal wiretapping has been critiqued and robustly condemned by activists and the political elite alike – the audio leaks of the PMO are one step ahead of the age-old phone tapping issue. Whether the highest office of the country was bugged or the phone of the highest official of the land was hacked, these leaks point to a glaring chink in our security armour for which there can be little excuse if any. If even the most confidential information is being recorded somewhere and can be leaked due to greed or incompetence – both inexcusable and both worthy of being prosecuted – where does the security of our country stand?

On the political front, while PTI leaders have questioned Pakistan’s cyber security risk, PTI Chairman Imran Khan has jumped on the incident saying it has exposed the PML-N’s ‘corruption’ – referring to the alleged audio of PM Shehbaz Sharif discussing Maryam Nawaz’s son-in-law’s grid station with an official. Contrary to Imran’s enthusiastic reading of the audio, however, PM Shehbaz seems to come across as fair, denying any undue favour to Maryam’s son-in-law. In the meantime, the PML-N side is also denying any wrongdoing on the part of Maryam Nawaz, with some sources claiming the PM was discussing technicalities regarding a policy enacted in 2020, during Imran Khan’s tenure, and that the audio snippet does not depict the full picture. It is also worth a think that, while PTI leaders may be mocking the PML-N at the moment, such audio leaks would be nightmare-inducing for the PTI too were older audios ‘released’. If secrets are up for sale, no one can be sure of their immunity from bugs, hacks and leaks. The fact is that such audio leaks do not favour anyone or any political party, and only a transparent and committed investigation should be the way forward. In an age where confidential information should be the most sacrosanct of assets for a state, there cannot be any justification for such a security lapse. Both state and government need to work together in ensuring matters related to Pakistan’s security or politics don’t end up hacked or online.

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