[Islamabad, 8 May 2023] – Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A), a prominent digital rights organization, is pleased to announce the launch of its flagship annual report, “Pakistan’s Internet Landscape report 2022.” The comprehensive report delves into the complex relationship between human rights and information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Pakistan.

The Internet Landscape report serves as a valuable reference document that captures and examines the dynamic digital environment and its impact on various aspects of Pakistani society, including human rights, democracy, the economy, and national security. It aims to offer critical information for all segments of society, and foster meaningful discussions on the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital landscape.

This year’s report also contains analysis and opinion by key stakeholders and experts in various fields that intersect with ICTs, including Federal Minister for Information Technology & Telecommunication Syed Amin-Ul-Haq; Senior Program Manager, Bytes for All Pakistan, Haroon Baloch; Former Head of Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, Arshad Mahmood; External Contributor  at Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research, Zaki Khalid; Senior Journalist, Zarrar Khuhro; Founder, Media Matters for Democracy, Asad Baig; Co-founder & CEO, Paysys Labs, Karim Jindani; Co-founder of Data Darbar, Mutaher Khan.

KEY INSIGHTS

In terms of internet access and overall governance, Pakistan made some gains, but in the context of the world, the country remains among the worst performers, even within just Asia.

Despite further internet penetration, around 15% of the population remains without any access, and the rest suffer through slow speeds and a lack of consistency in services, negatively impacting meaningful access. Add to this a lack of inclusivity and digital literacy, one of the biggest global gender gaps in access and a struggle to stay online due to loadshedding and blackouts brought on by an energy crisis and catastrophic floods, and a dismal picture emerges.

Through an in-depth analysis of emerging trends, the report reveals several significant findings that shape the lives of Pakistani citizens. Key highlights from the report include:

  • Despite an increase in internet penetration, approximately 15% of the population still lacks access to the internet and mobile or telecom services.
  • Cybercrimes in Pakistan saw a steady rise, with over 100,000 complaints registered by December 2022, marking the highest number in the last five years. Women continue to face widespread harassment and blackmail online.
  • Cases of blasphemy accusations originating from or connected to the digital space remained prevalent, with no meaningful action taken to address the issue. The online environment remains perilous, with the threat of blasphemy allegations, online campaigning, mob organizing, and subsequent violence, including lynching.
  • Disinformation proliferated online, reaching new levels of sophistication and influence. The report highlights disinformation operations originating in India targeting Pakistan. The existing environment created by the state and local actors provided fertile ground for such attempts to succeed.
  • The local e-commerce and fintech sectors experienced negative trends due to global economic downturn and Pakistan’s own crises. Funding and deal counts for startups significantly declined in the second half of 2022.
  • The floods in Pakistan severely damaged the telecom and internet infrastructure, leaving thousands of flood affectees and relief workers without means of communication during the emergency and for some time after.
  • The report discusses the state’s efforts to control the online space, including filing cases against journalists, activists, and political opponents for expressing unfavorable views on social media. Attempts were also made to pass stricter defamation laws to suppress dissent.
  • Internet banking transactions witnessed a steep rise of 51.7% in fiscal year 2022, reflecting the growing adoption of digital financial services in Pakistan. Internet banking users increased by almost 60% to 3.1 million.
  • The State Bank launched a licensing and regulatory framework for digital banks, signaling progress towards a digital banking and financial system. Five licenses were issued in the first phase.
  • Despite a decline in funding, Pakistan’s startups managed to secure $348 million in funding in 2022. However, the last quarter of the year experienced a sharp plunge in funding, making it the worst quarter on record.

The Internet Landscape report serves as a critical tool for policymakers, civil society organizations, academics, and all stakeholders interested in the development and progress of Pakistan’s digital ecosystem. It covers a wide range of topics, including internet access, governance, blasphemy, cybercrime, data protection, media censorship, disinformation, fintech, and e-commerce. The report and its executive summary can be accessed here.