Senate body raises concern over PTA giving data access to spy firm
The Senate Standing Committee during a meeting on Thursday expressed concerns regarding the data access to data being given to a US firm Sandvine, who has ties with global cyber surveillance. The committee members inquired if the arrangement signed with the US firm, who is allegedly linked with Israel intelligence agencies, would have access to all sensitive digital information, including WhatsApp.
A parliamentary body had been inquiring on this matter after the issue was referred to the committee by Senator Mushtaq Ahmed in the previous Senate session, related to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) signing an agreement with the US-based firm Sandvine Corporation, to monitor and curb grey traffic on the internet. Mushtaq Ahmed raised this question that PTA has signed an agreement for monitoring grey traffic with a firm who has ties with the Israeli intelligence.
Senator Ahmed also informed the committee that Sandvine was involved in gathering intelligence for the US government in Turkey and also spied on Turkish nationals living in the US. Senator Robina Khalid from Pakistan Peoples Party said that the new monitoring system would jeopardize digital security in Pakistan. She added, “Background checks of Sandvine Corporation will reveal that it has a sister company NSO, known for global cyber surveillance”.
Chairman committee Senator Talha Mahmood shared a news report published by the BBC saying that Sandvine has a sister company called NSO, which is a cyber-technology company and had stolen data of 1.5 billion users in last week. The report also revealed, “The surveillance software involved was developed by Israeli firm NSO Group. Hackers were able to remotely install surveillance software on phones and other devices through WhatsApp”.
In response to these questions, the PTA chairman retired Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa said that his office had not signed any agreement which is in violation of PPRA rules. He clarified that both mobile and Long Distance and International (LDI) operators were bound to establish a monitoring system to inspect grey traffic. He added that the PTA had asked cellular operators to form an association to fund the system to monitor grey traffic as well as foul content online.
PTA chairman said, “Sandvine and NSO are not connected. Nonetheless, we have taken an undertaking that the technology being provided does not have security flaws. Secondly, we involved the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for a security audit after which the system will become functional. The ISI was involved at the time of proof of concept of the system. The system will not become functional if security objections arise”.