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Privacy in Camera

Installation of cameras in public places for law enforcement is not a new phenomenon. However, it was Safe City Lahore Project and its successful implementation which made surveillance a point of public discourse. Investigation of the suicide attack of February 13, 2017 on Mall Road Lahore was the first major case which revealed the effectiveness of this system for Pakistani audience. This attack resulted in martyrdom of 14 Police officers and civilians including DIG Capt. Rtd Syed Ahmed Mobeen Zaidi and SSP Zahid Mahmood Gondal. Within 72 hours, the then Chief Minister Punjab addressed a press conference and unveiled result of investigations conducted by Police and other civil and military intelligence agencies. Key clues were found through cameras installed under the project and private cameras installed on Hall Road Lahore for private purposes by businessmen.

This success was hauled by all and according to some reports by camera manufacturers, this resulted in at least 300% increase in import of CCTV cameras in country since 2017. All provincial governments acknowledged large scale cameras installation as an important tool to prevent terrorism. Moreover,  Safe cities projects were started in Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Gwadar. In Islamabad 1942 cameras were installed in 2016 but their effectiveness and governance were questioned by many. In Punjab six cities had built a skeleton of Safe city centres but no further action was taken after 2018.

Police departments in the provinces stressed upon petrol station owners, banks, jewelers and money exchange dealers to install CCTV cameras for improvements in security and as a deterrent for the thieves. Lahore High Court ordered Punjab Police to install cameras in the Police stations for prevention of torture and illegal detention of the victims/ suspects citizens to curb practice of Habius Corpus. Police department in Punjab even started taking attendance of Station House Officers (SHOs) in their offices and central monitoring was started in Punjab Police HQ in 2017. First Pakistan Super League in 2017 was given approval by a security team of ICC after verification of surveillance system installed at Qaddafi Stadium and throughout on the route of the cricket teams. Present Chief Justice of Pakistan has also ordered installation of 10,000 cameras in Karachi few years ago. Lahore had almost 9000 cameras till 2020 under safe city project. Number of cameras owned by private owners and covering public spaces is still unknown.

In the meantime, intelligent traffic management system also started working in Lahore and E-Challan (E-ticketing) for automated red light traffic violations was also started on the directions of Lahore High Court in 2018. Lahore waste management company started monitoring of garbage through same cameras. Lahore Parking company automated its parking ticket system with same tools. Lahore Walled City Authority solicited help to monitor illegal construction in the Lahore Walled City to retrieve digital evidence to bring the violators to the book. Environment Protection Agency was ordered by the Lahore High Court to take help of cameras to control smoke emitting industries and vehicles. It shows that use of cameras for monitoring and surveillance was expanded from security to other sectors of governance and decision makers were getting benefit from camera technology coupled with artificial intelligence.

Every technological intervention in public sector is expected to change the landscape of usual business and it may have some unintended consequences. So was the use  of the cameras for many purposes. Latest case of identifying the installation of secret cameras in the Senate is an important one to quote. People may ask following questions: Since when these cameras in Senate of Pakistan were installed? Who operates these cameras? What is being done with the data collected? Who processes the collected information? These questions are important from public accountability perspective. In case of cameras installed in public places, it is possible to find these answers, though a lot of effort will be required. In case of hidden cameras, it is very challenging and even dangerous at times. Appropriate guidance is provided by courts in Pakistan, in some cases.

In case of Late Judge Muhammad Arshad, Islamabad High Court has provided guidance about filming of video to be admissible for evidentiary purposes. In no cases, hidden cameras are allowed except it is covered under Information under Fair Trial Act of 2014. The permission for such technological interventions, even before commission of an offence, has to be obtained from the court of law based upon some tangible reasons of suspicion against the accused. In general, cameras in camera are neither encouraged without explicit information or without knowledge and permission of the people under surveillance, in Pakistan. It is a matter of privacy of the people.

Interestingly, Privacy as a fundamental human right is mentioned in Article 14 (1) the constitution of Pakistan 1973. It reads, “[t]he dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.” Being enshrined as fundamental human right, the right to privacy is meant to take precedence over any other inconsistent provisions of local or special laws. When it comes to secrecy of vote or choice to elect a member of any public or private body, it is protection of privacy right of the voter, unless otherwise mention in the law or procedure of that enterprise or organisation.

In case of protection of privacy right in other domains, it is also vital. E-Challans not only capture pictures of the offenders,but also their companions in the vehicles who have the right to remain anonymous and unrecognizable as they are not committing any violation being not driving the vehicle. In case of surveillance of public places, privacy rights of personal spaces need to be respected and protected. Such cases also appeared in private spaces like,like one in the  cinema of Lahore and another in  a university of Baluchistan,where footage from CCTV cameras were leaked causing serious consequences for the people appearing in these videos. Presently, we are watching videos of one party or the other circulating on social media and through other digital mediums. Secretly taped videos may not be acceptable for the court as an admissible evidence but their impact for building public perceptions is undeniable. In most of the cases, such acts tantamount to breach of privacy rights of the people.

The scope of privacy rights in Pakistan is limited to privacy at home. There are penal laws to protect the trespass in property of a person to implement this right to that extent. But with new technologies, scope of privacy rights has expanded to various other domains. Pakistan is also a signatory to International Convention  on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which does not limit privacy rights to homes as in the Constitution of Pakistan 1973.  There are no clear laws to enforce privacy rights in public and to take action against filming of secret videos affecting privacy of the people, regardless purpose of making such videos. There is need to amend the Article 14 (1) of the Constitution and expand it to privacy in all cases, subjected to law. If there are legal requirements, e.g security or protection of dignity of the people, then this fundamental right may be traded off subjected to law. Procedural laws should be drafted and implemented to protect the fundamental privacy rights of the people in line with international obligations. In a digital world of 21st century, one cannot keep on waiting for a godot to come and amend the constitution of Pakistan. Parliamentarians have to do it – one party or the other or both of them; it ought to be done.

This op-ed is already published in Daily The Nation on March 16, 2021 and can be accessed at

https://nation.com.pk/16-Mar-2021/privacy-in-camera

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Bane of Traffic – Motorcycles

Population control is a major challenge in our beloved homeland whether it is about homo sapiens or about motor cycles. Somehow, there are some interlinkages in unbridled population growth and production of motorcycles, lately. In Pakistan, the mantra of population planning is enchanted since 1950s, but in case of traffic control of motorcycles, the planning is not even in sight. It is becoming more and more alarming, considering that 7500 motor cycles are added in traffic of Pakistan on daily basis according to some estimates. Number of children landing in Pakistan is in millions and no alarm is raised to manage it, therefore additional number of motorcycles coming on road is also going unnoticed. Ironically, it is presented as a sign of growing economy without paying much attention to glaring consequences of this unplanned production of motorcycles.

One of the major consequences of increased motorcycles population in urban areas is traffic congestion. With no dedicated motorcycle lanes in urban centers, except on few roads in Lahore, zig zag movements of motorcycles due to their easier manoeuvrability, other four-wheel vehicles have to slow down. It increases the number of vehicles on the road to cover the same distance for longer period of time and exhausting more pollutants into air adding further to the environmental degradation. It also increases cost of mobility due to higher consumption of fuel by all commuters. According to a seminal study conducted in Lahore in collaboration with Dr. Muhammad Hassan from Department of Economics of Lahore University of Management and Sciences, in 2018, annual cost of congestion only in Lahore is approximately 94 billion Rupees. With more vehicles on the roads and cost of fuel adjustment, it can be safely suggested that it has surpassed 100 billion Rupees by now. Although, only motorcycles are not the sole reason for this exorbitant cost of congestion but disproportionate number of motorcycles in the mixture of types of vehicles, it is one of the major contributing factors.

Only in the Punjab, motorcycles are 85% of the total registered vehicles. With no periodic fitness tests of these motorcycles and levying one-time token tax by the Excise and Taxation departments, there is no mechanism to take any unfit motorcycles out of road through any fitness regulation regime. In Lahore, from where more data is available for any assessment, on average almost 60 motorcycles are stolen every day. This shows that there is an active demand of stolen motorcycles or their parts in the country and supply is facilitated by the motorcycles’ thieves. It is quite possible that many a motorcycle would also be riding on the road with fake number plates as sheer number of motorcycles makes it difficult for any kind of active enforcement. With such a whooping number of motorcycles, fuel consumption by only this motor vehicle is almost 40% of the total fuel being consumed in the country.

There are other factors for easy and affordable supply of motorcycles. A new Pakistani made motorcycle can be purchased at Rupees 35000 per motorbike while on periodic instalments of payment, it is even a more attractive deal. This makes it a vehicle of choice for the poor and lower middle-income families. With poor enforcement by traffic police, number of persons on a motorcycle can go up to five including three children or young men. The roads in Pakistan have seen further innovations such as, Ching Chi, motorcycle rickshaw and goods carrying motorcycles with locally modified trollies. It is a common sight that a family of four commonly uses one motorcycle and even for intercity commute. What else could be a cheaper option than this for a poor person in an era of price hike and rising inflation?

Other side of the story is dearth of affordable and reliable provision of public transport system. With increasing population and unplanned expansion of suburbs around the urban centres, it has become increasingly difficult for transportation departments and urban planners to satisfy the demand of public transport. It is not an excuse for anyone in authority to present, as all powerful public servants should have done it on regular basis. Inordinate Delays in development of urban mass transit systems have created a gap in the urban mobility market which was bound to be filled by mushrooming of motorcycles. We have developed capacity to manufacture local motorcycles but it does not mean that we keep on producing it at every cost in the name of protecting the local business and industry of one commodity. It is not wise to think that what can be done, must be done.

It is about time to regulate and control production and supply of motorcycles plying on major roads of urban centres. There is need to adapt multiple strategies to control traffic vehicle mix on main highways of the provinces, just like on motorways. In city centres, also there is need to impose traffic restrictions on motorcycles for specific hours of the day and only in those areas where dedicated parking is available. It will free up many a footpaths and roads already being used as parking places. Regulation of protective gear like crash helmets will be mandatory to prevent loss of life and to improve public safety.  Most of the accidents in urban centres involve motorcycles and young bike riders. If dedicated lanes are provided for motorcycles, there should be a zero tolerance for violators and strict licensing regime ought to be followed which is already available. High fines and enhanced public safety measures with restriction of only two persons on a bike will diminish the attraction of this vehicle of choice. However, all cannot be achieved through enforcement and policing. 

Globally, governments have provided better and safer alternates to their people. Local motorcycle industry can be incentivised to develop safer automobiles and cars while capping the motorcycle production. Even in developing economies, majority of the people do not prefer motorcycles over well- managed, safe and affordable public transport systems. It is not only environment friendly, but also a safe mode of travel; freeing up more time for commuters to spend at their leisure. It is not difficult to find ways to turn challenges into opportunities, if there is a will.

This op-ed was published in Daily The Nation on June 9, 2021 https://nation.com.pk/09-Jun-2021/bane-of-traffic-motorcycles

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International Security Other Police Safe Cities

Pakistan : Rule of Law through Technology Oriented Policing

This is English Version of an analysis published on BBC URDU ONLINE SERVICE by the Author.

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The Rebalancing of Middle East

The term “Middle East” has become enormously elastic that once British Foreign Office used in the 19th century by dividing the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. This is creating confusion and strategizing the challenges of rebalancing of the Middle East.
Today Middle East refers to the predominantly Arab Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore; with the exception of Turkey and Iran. The understanding of the complexity of Middle East is more conceptual and it varies immensely in the perceptional domain. The makeup of the Middle East has traditionally been countries seen close to European secularism and the one aligned with Islam.
During Cold War one part of the region was secular, socialist and built around the military, while the Arabian Peninsula was largely was Islamist, traditionalist and royalist. The Middle East

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Other

Rebalancing of the Middle East

The term “Middle East” has become enormously elastic that once British Foreign Office used in the 19th century by dividing the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. This is creating confusion and strategizing the challenges of rebalancing of the Middle East.

Today Middle East refers to the predominantly Arab Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore; with the exception of Turkey and Iran. The understanding of the complexity of Middle East is more conceptual and it varies immensely in the perceptional domain. The makeup of the Middle East has traditionally been countries seen close to European secularism and the one aligned with Islam.

During Cold War one part of the region was secular, socialist and built around the military, while the Arabian Peninsula was largely was Islamist, traditionalist and royalist. The Middle East

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Review – No Ordinary Disruption

The most interesting insight in Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel book to be published on May 12th by Public Affairs