The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has declared that ‘any form of surveillance’ on citizens was illegal and unconstitutional, asking Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif to explain who is ‘responsible for the mass surveillance, ARY News reported on Sunday.

IHC Justice Babar Sattar issued a written order on the plea of Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan, and Najamus Saqib, son of former chief justice Saqib Nisar, against the audio leaks.

In the written order, Justice Sattar said that the federal government was responsible for the surveillance of four million citizens and PM Shehbaz and cabinet members are “collectively and individually” responsible for the mass surveillance.

The IHC also ordered the Prime Minister to submit a report on the legal framework of the surveillance system within six weeks. The report must also clarify whether the surveillance is being carried out in accordance with the law and the constitution.

It also directed the Prime Minister to explain who is responsible for the installation of the surveillance system and mass surveillance and “who is in charge of the system that is affecting the privacy of citizens”.

Meanwhile, the IHC also issued contempt of court notice to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman and its members, directing them to submit response within six weeks. “The court is of the view that the PTA apparently misinterpreted the surveillance system in the report”, it added.

Justice Babar, in its order, directed the telecommunication authority to submit its response on surveillance system in a sealed envelope. “PTA should explain where this surveillance system is installed and who has access to it”, it added.

The written order further stated that the telecom companies will have to submit their reports on the Lawful Interception Management System by July 5. “The companies will also have to ensure that the Interception Management System do not have access to their system,” it added.

The court has also ordered the federal government to submit a report on the surveillance system within six weeks.

The court has also allowed the federal government to submit additional documents in the case. The order stated that the case will be heard again on September 4, 2024.

In May last year, Justice Sattar had asked the intelligence agencies and PTA to trace the source of the audio leak while Pemra was told not to broadcast the unauthorised and leaked conversation of citizens.

IB and ISI reports stated that phone calls could be tapped through mobile apps and viruses, and intelligence agencies cannot trace the source. The ISI report said it was unable to trace the source of leaks due to encryption.

Justice Sattar advised the assistant attorney general to file submissions along with the reply to the court notice issued to the IB.

Earlier this week, respondents in the audio leaks case, including IB, Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, had filed applications seeking Justice Sattar’s recusal.

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