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From Our Member Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan – Internet Landscape of Pakistan 2020

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Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A) has released its regular annual report on “Internet Landscape of Pakistan 2020”, that meticulously maps Pakistan’s internet landscape alongside covering digital trends and their impact on socio-economic developments as well as challenges and threats in the digital age during 2020. The report also looks at the impact of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on people’s digital lives in Pakistan.

This year’s report presents an in-depth analysis of internet access, internet governance, online blasphemy, child pornography, cyber-crime, data protection and privacy, censorship and media, disinformation, fintech and online banking, and e-commerce in Pakistan.

According to the report, in terms of access, the country saw accelerated growth vis-à-vis adoption and its usage, but this was less a result of successful policies, better services or an enabling environment and more the result of the COVID-19 crisis and nationwide lockdowns, forcing citizens to turn to new means of communication, doing business, working from home, continuing education remotely, etc.

Moreover, the government’s much touted, ‘Digital Pakistan’ program – cited to be a game changer for the country’s technological future – was essentially defunct by mid-year due to internal political struggles. Positive strides were also seen on the fintech, e-commerce and online banking fronts with some improvements in policies and better, rapidly evolving services made possible in part due to the extraordinary circumstances the pandemic created.

The issue of online blasphemy accusations and campaigns continued to spiral out of control, with social media users able to target anyone with near complete impunity. Most online cases targeted minorities, members of the media or those teaching/studying in educational institutions. 200 people were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan across 2020, the highest annual total in the country’s history.

All cybercrime, be it harassment of women, child pornography, hate speech against minorities, financial scams and cyber-attacks, data breaches and sale of private information and more saw a marked increase – a fact recognized by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Cybercrime Wing, who cited reporting trends five times higher than those seen the previous year. The total number of complaints lodged with the Cybercrime Wing during 2020 were 94,227 mainly related to financial fraud, harassment, stalking and unauthorized access. 115 million Pakistani mobile users’ data went on sale on the dark web in 2020. Clubbed with this was a sharp rise in disinformation. This proved to be especially dangerous in 2020 as a lot of disinformation focused on the pandemic, the coronavirus and government lockdowns, hampering e­fforts and causing panic.

With the introduction of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules, 2020, the terms of censorship have been increased, bringing Pakistan to the brink of complete digital isolation with all major social media/internet companies threatening to end services in the country if pushed to comply with the new rules.


Click here for a PDF of the full report.