Heba Zainab Islam

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Johns Hopkins U.

Grant number

Gr. 10224

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Islam, Heba (Johns Hopkins U.) "Mediating Surveillance: Digital rights Advocacy in Pakistan"

My research examines how digital rights advocacy groups mediate between the surveillance state and citizen subjects in Pakistan. As internet use has quadrupled over the last decade to include one third of the population, a historically strong surveillance state has extended its reach into to the digital realm via a new set of laws on cybercrime. For this project, I consider how digital rights advocacy groups attempt to work within the limits of a new and rapidly changing set of laws to circumscribe digital surveillance carried out by the Pakistani state. I examine the extent to which advocacy can be successful when legal developments continue alongside extra-legal surveillance measures, and whether digital rights advocates become unintentionally imbricated in the state’s efforts at expanding its surveillance regime. While advocates consider freedom from surveillance within the purview of digital rights, the consequences of such surveillance ‘ which can include arrests, censorship, and state violence ‘ results in digital rights advocacy overlapping with human rights and minority rights discourse as well. Advocates mobilize the language and ideologies of transnational digital rights groups in tandem with longstanding local human rights discourse, creating a new site of interaction with the surveillance state.