A UK-based watchdog group says Pakistan spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has hired intermediary companies to acquire spying toolkits from Chinese firms for a mass surveillance program.
According to a recent report from Privacy International, the ISI has sought to tap Internet traffic via underwater cables that pass through the country’s southern port city of Karachi.
“What the ISI wanted to build was a complete surveillance system that would capture mobile communications data, including Wi-Fi, all broadband internet traffic, and any data transmitted over 3G,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Matthew Rice, an advocacy officer for Privacy International, said the move would effectively give the Pakistani spy agency’s access to Internet traffic worldwide.
“These cables are going to route data through various countries and regions,” Rice said, adding, “Some will go from Europe to Africa and all the way to Southeast Asia. From my reading that’s an explicit attempt to look at what’s going on.”
Rice also noted that traffic from North America and India would also be routed via the cables.
Sources say the ISI has been building its surveillance capabilities for years and plans to collect broadband Internet traffic, phone records, and cellular data transmissions en mass.
The plan is being copied on programs already run by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and the of Britain’s most secret intelligence agency know as the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Experts say the plan could end up even more invasive as the Pakistani spy agency has often worked with Western companies to fulfill those ambitions.
A series of leaked top-secret documents last month appeared to show the British intelligence had gained access to almost all Pakistani Internet users.
Pakistan has reportedly monitored its citizens’ web traffic with software supplied by American Narus company.
Reacting to the mass surveillance, Pakistani rights campaigners and opposition lawmakers urged the Islamabad government to protect the privacy of its citizens
Pakistan is also in the process of debating its own cyber-crime bill, which rights activists fear would curtail privacy and freedom of expression.
Rights campaigners have expressed concern over a provision that allows the government to share intelligence with foreign spy agencies, such as the NSA and GCHQ.
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