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Pak government empowers ISI to intercept calls without oversight, Sparks concerns

Critics contend that giving the ISI and military unchecked power erodes democratic oversight and could complicate governance for future civilian administrations.

The Pakistani government has issued a contentious decree empowering the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to intercept and monitor phone calls under the guise of national security. This measure is expected to significantly expand the authority of the country’s infamous intelligence agency. According to a notification from Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, issued under the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organisation ) Act of 1996, ISI operatives will now be able to oversee communications across various telecommunication networks. 

The notification stated, “In exercise of the powers conferred under Section 54, the federal government, in the interest of national security and in the apprehension of any offense, is pleased to authorize the officers not below the rank of grade 18 to be nominated from time to time by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any telecommunication system as envisaged under Section 54 of the Act.” 

Further adding, “The federal government, in the interest of national security and in the apprehension of any offense, is pleased to authorize the officers… to be nominated from time to time by ISI to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any communication system.” In the interest of national security and for the prevention of any offenses, the federal government has authorized officers, to be designated periodically by the ISI, to intercept and trace calls and messages through any communication system.

ISI to Intercept
Image Source: The Pakistan Military Monitor

This decision comes after a December 2023 ruling by an Islamabad court that initially refused to grant such authorization to any agency. Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan revealed these changes during a hearing initiated by a petition from Bushra Bibi. In response, the Pakistani government issued a Gazette notification to legitimize these actions. Sources close to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have criticized this move as an illegal act endorsed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government.

Critics contend that giving the ISI and military unchecked power erodes democratic oversight and could complicate governance for future civilian administrations. Sources close to PTI said, “This is an illegal act made legitimate by PMLN. They are obliged by ISI and the army, making them all-powerful without any scrutiny. This will create more problems for any democratic government in the future.”

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