IHC declares suspension of mobile networks on security pretext illegal


ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday declared the suspension of mobile phone services on the pretext of security as illegal.

This verdict came on petitions challenging the government’s decision of frequently shutting down cellular services in the federal capital for security concerns. Justice Athar Minallah had reserved his verdict on the petitions on December 21 after hearing arguments from all sides.

Back in March 2016, residents of Islamabad took the federal authorities to the court for suspending mobile services for security reasons. The petitioners submitted that the suspension of telecom services in the name of security greatly disturbed their lives, adding that such a practice was also illegal under the relevant telecom laws of Pakistan.

The petitioners had also stated that unnecessary suspension of mobile phone services was a blatant violation of the Pakistan Telecommunication Act, 1996, adding that the act did not empower the government to suspend cellular services unless a state of emergency was declared by the president.

They pleaded with the court to restrain the government from shutting down mobile services.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said in its reply that it could not take a unilateral action regarding the suspension of mobile phone services. The reply further stated that the authority suspended cellular services only after receiving orders from the government in accordance with section 54(2) of the Pakistan Telecommunication Act, 1996. It also said that the government could exercise its right to suspend cellular service for security reasons.

Section 54(3) of Pakistan Telecommunications Act, 1996, states:

“National Security-(3) Upon proclamation of emergency by the President, the Federal Government may suspend or modify all or any order or licenses made or issued under this Act or cause suspension of operation, functions or services of any licensee for such time as it may deem necessary.”

In September 2015, a report titled ‘Security v Access: The Impact of Mobile Network Shutdowns’ revealed that Pakistan’s economy is severely impacted by network shutdowns.

“However, many experts argue that network shutdowns violate a range of human rights, and are neither necessary nor proportionate responses to potential violent activities. While the debate is often framed around the resulting restrictions to freedom of expression, network shutdowns also impact other rights, including life, access to health services, education, and work,” the report stated using Telenor Pakistan as a case study.