Can Pakistan build NSA-style mass surveilance system?
Report claims Pakistan wants high-tech mass surveillance system but experts question whether possible

Militancy-plagued Pakistan wants its own mass surveillance system, according to a U.K.-based internet privacy group.

The report released Wednesday by Privacy International even claims that Pakistan wants its system to rival the controversial program run by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), the scale and depth of which was exposed in a series of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

Pakistani security experts said the idea that Pakistan could build such a system to rival the NSA's was "spiced up with exaggeration" but that it was possible that its intelligence agencies had approached international companies to develop a system that would tap phones and monitor e-mails.

"This is quite possible that [Pakistan's] ISI and other intelligence agencies are trying to develop a surveillance system to improve their capabilities against militant organizations and their foreign affiliates, like Daesh,” Lt. General Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Anadolu Agency.

Pakistan has long depended on intelligence from a U.S. surveillance system run out of the capital Islamabad and other cities to intercept militant communications but, according to the report, the South Asian nation wants to reduce its dependency on the U.S. by building its own system.

The report noted concerns that the size of Pakistan's surveillance and its use by the main intelligence agency, the ISI, was already beyond the regulation of local law. The report cited a Supreme Court case that revealed more than 20,000 phones had been tapped by the ISI in the beginning of 2015.

Masood however, believes that while Pakistan might want its own surveillance tools, it would not be to the same scale as the NSA's.

"Intelligence agencies try to obtain as much of the latest technology as they can. That’s why, I say that it is understandable and quite possible [that Pakistan wants its own system] but dubbing it as NSA-style or parallel to the NSA's is too exaggerated. Rather, it is absurd,” he said.

Masood said Pakistan has only limited access to cutting-edge technology as well as far more limited surveillance interests compared to the U.S.

"What’s the use of tapping the phone calls of the people of France or Spain or Germany for Pakistan? Pakistan neither has any political or security concerns in these country nor does it have the capability to influence them,” he added. "But if it is for India, Afghanistan or other regional countries, because of Islamabad’s security interests and the links between different terrorists groups that are a threat to Pakistan, then this is understandable.”

Another security analyst, Ikram Sehgal, said however that it is possible that Pakistan could seek such a large and pervasive system.

Seghal said the country has been trying to improve its own surveillance systems since 2006.

"Intelligence agencies and terrorists both have their respective links globally. Therefore, it is quite possible Pakistan is going to build this system because terrorism has no boundaries nowadays,” Sehgal told Anadolu Agency.

"I am not sure whether or not the NSA is helping Pakistan to develop this system. But one thing is for sure, that acquisition of a better surveillance system by Pakistan is in the U.S.'s interest as well, as the two allies have several common interests, especially in Afghanistan,” he said.

An army spokesman, when contacted, refused to comment on the report.

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Last Modified: 2015-07-24 07:10:35
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