Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has officially announced its plans to “enhance” its Web Monitoring System (WMS). This move is confirmed to cause even more internet disruptions ahead of the looming general elections.
The WMS, a surveillance infrastructure designed to monitor internet traffic, leverages Deep Packet Inspection technology. This system grants PTA the capability to exercise gateway-level control over internet access, including the ability to implement blocking and censorship measures. It was purchased from the Canadian firm Sandvine in 2019 for around $18 million.
Inquiries were made to the PTA by Geo Fact Check regarding the timing of the ongoing upgrade, which suspiciously coincides with the upcoming national elections. The consequential internet disruptions would hinder Pakistani voters’ access to vital election-related information.
The spokesperson claimed that the WMS deployment had been in progress since December 2023. The official alleged:
On the 22nd of January, Ahmed Shamim Pirzada, the Director General of the government-owned PTA, addressed the media about the recent nationwide episodes of internet slowdown. According to Pirzada, these disruptions were attributed to “technical glitches” stemming from the ongoing software update being undertaken by the PTA.
However, Usama Khilji, a prominent digital rights activist, has voiced his concerns regarding the response from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), deeming it “inconsistent” and marked by contradictions.
He also brought up how these internet disruptions were only happening during online events organized by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Furthermore, Khilji pointed out that the PTA had ample opportunities to carry out the WMS upgrade during the tenure of the coalition government, which spanned from April 2022 to August 2023 or during the transitional phase when the caretaker government assumed control in August.