August 24, 2019

US firm to monitor internet traffic in Pakistan

News Source: The News

ISLAMABAD: Following concerns expressed by the opposition and a treasury lawmaker in the Senate on Friday, the issue, involving a US company Sandvine Inc with regards to an agreement on monitoring of internet traffic was referred to the House standing committee concerned for deliberations and report.

Senators forced, during the question hour, Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Azam Swati to agree to its referral to the House committee, even they had an iota of doubt. However, earlier, he contended that the Parliament was supreme and could come up with a position that no US firm be allowed inside Pakistan. He also at one point said that certain elements, who failed to pocket the contract, had resorted to what he called conspiracies.

Citing the nature of sensitivity, senators insisted on the matter being referred to the House panel concerned and also questioned how could this be denied having not signed any agreement with the American firm and then trying to defend it in the written reply.

Opposition Senators JI’s Mushtaq Ahmad, JUI-F’s Muhammad Talha Mehmood, PTI’s Dr. Shahzad Waseem and Mushahid Hussain Sayed of PML-N spoke on the matter, airing their concern on it and suspected some Israelis might be having shares in the US firm, involved in monitoring internet traffic.

Senator Mushtaq pointed out that the agreement might have been with the US firm but Israeli secret agency be in the background. Referring to Wikipedia report, Senator Mushahid said that every information/ data about Pakistan, being monitored, was supposed to be shared with US intelligence agencies. He continued that each US technology company was authorised to use its information with US intelligence, including the Facebook and this had been proved.

He read out from the report that a Sandvine Inc. affiliate was part of a controversy, as its technology was alleged to have been used to spy on Turkish citizens. “It is a routine job for US companies to share whatever information, they will receive from Pakistan, with their intelligence agencies,” he remarked.

“On one hand, it is being denied that any agreement has been signed while on the other, US firm is being defended,” remarked Senator Shahzad. Senator Talha said that there was also a particular case of a Turkish firm in international media, but it also had shares of Israel’s Mossad secret service, when the matter was deeply looked into. He then asked was the share holding of US firm checked?

Minister Swati said that Pakistan’s security agencies were involved and every aspect/ parameter was taken care of but if the senators had concerns, they could share with him a specific question, which could be taken up in the House committee meeting. Then, he added he was prepared that the matter might be referred to the committee, which was done by Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani.

Earlier, the House was informed through a written reply to a question by Senator Mushtaq that neither Pakistan Telecommunication Authority signed any contract for monitoring of internet traffic with any vendor nor was spending public on the project. And, in compliance to statutory and policy obligations, the PTA directed telecom industry to deploy a suitable technical solution capable of monitoring, analysing and curbing grey traffic. The system will be termed as web monitoring system.

The House was told that the contract was signed between telecom operators and the vendor without involvement of public money and all long distance international, cellular mobile operators and submarine cable landing station licenses were sharing the cost of the system under their regulatory obligations.

For addressing security concerns, PTA has obtained undertaking from Inbox Business Technologies, the vendor and manufacturer company Sandvine Inc. USA for any possible involvement of hostile element. Security agencies have been involved to conduct security audit of the system to find out any loophole and vulnerabilities in the system. A strict clause about the system and material breach is included in the contract. In case, any such breach is identified and validated, contract will be terminated, the minister incharge said.

State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan strongly refuted a claim, made by PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar that 90 per cent transit trade with Afghanistan had been diverted to Iran’s Chahbahar port. He also quoted figures, which showed that there had been slight increase in Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan and imports also registered notable increase.

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