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Thursday April 18, 2024

GSMA concerned over internet curbs in Pakistan

The GSMA said it encourages the ministry to explore the implementation of AONS in Pakistan

By Mehtab Haider
February 22, 2024
This image shows mobile phone connection towers. — AFP/File
This image shows mobile phone connection towers. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The GSMA has expressed its concerns over restrictions on connectivity and internet services on the Election Day in Pakistan, terming them a violation of human rights and freedom of expression.

The GSMA is a global organisation unifying the mobile ecosystem.

In a letter written to the IT Minister Umar Saif, a GSMA representative said that they were reaching out to address the GSMA’s concerns regarding the restrictions placed on connectivity and internet services in Pakistan during the lead-up to the 2024 General Elections, on election day itself, and the subsequent ongoing decline in the service quality.

It said the imposition of these restrictions violated individuals’ rights, as outlined in international human rights conventions, including those integral to democratic processes and elections such as freedom of expression, access to information and privacy.

“Prolonged restrictions can also have far reaching negative effects on citizens’ health, education social and economic welfare and damage trust. In addition to the harm imposed on businesses, restrictions can disrupt credit and investment plans, ultimately damaging the country’s reputation for managing the economy and foreign investment.

The GSMA discourages the use of service restriction orders. Any such orders should be supported by continuous monitoring of the situation and its impact, together with analysis and dynamic decision-making processes allowing for swift restoration of services. The powers to restrict services should be exercised carefully solely in exceptional and pre-defined circumstances, that is consistent with relevant laws, internationally recognised human rights conventions and the ITU constitution.”

The GSMA and mobile operators in Pakistan have developed and evaluated a “Always-on Network Service”(AONS)1 which enables accessibility for business-critical mobile applications such as financial and payment applications and emergency services in data-restricted geographical areas. This initiative has demonstrated that it is possible to deliver a high level of network resilience and security to services that are vital to Pakistani society, ensuring their continuous availability 24/7.

The GSMA said it encourages the ministry to explore the implementation of AONS in Pakistan and stands ready to engage constructively to improve the processes around service restriction orders, minimise the impact on society and ensure business continuity.