Islamabad, Jul 23: Pakistan's powerful spy agency ISI sought to intercept all communications passing through the country in 2013, the most significant expansion of its capacity to conduct mass surveillance to date and rivalling that of the US and UK, according to a new report that could have implications for India.
In June 2013, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's best known intelligence agency, sought to develop a mass surveillance system by directly tapping the main fibre optic cables entering Pakistan that carried most of the nation's network communication data, Privacy International said.
"This system would make available virtually all of the nation's domestic and international communications data for scrutiny, the most significant expansion of the government's capacity to conduct mass surveillance to date," it said in a report titled, "Tipping the Scales: Surveillance and security in Pakistan".
The project is the first Pakistani government-run centralised mass surveillance project to be publicly revealed, the report released by the UK-based charity that defends and promotes the right to privacy across the world, said.
The total intake of data every second sought by Pakistan in the proposal document would rival some of the world's most powerful surveillance programmes, including the UK's 'Tempora' and US' 'Upstream' programmes.
What the ISI wanted to build, according to the request for proposals, was a complete surveillance system that would capture mobile communications data, including Wi-Fi, all broadband internet traffic, and any data transmitted over 3G.
According to the documents, the interception activities were to be "seamless" and "must not be detectable or visible to the subscriber".
Since the creation of the Pakistan Internet Exchange - an communications system that keeps most of Pakistan's communications within Pakistan - the government has been able to route the majority of Pakistan's internet traffic through a single core backbone with limited gateways, making it much easier to monitor internet traffic, the report said.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications, including popular services such as Skype and Viber, are also heavily monitored, the report said.
In a secret request for proposals from 2013, the ISI called for complete surveillance system to monitor "[a]ll international IP [internet protocol] traffic....at 3 landing and 2 x Satellite IPLCs [International Private Leased Circuits] sites....".
The ISI explicitly requested the system to be scalable to meet future expansion plans of the network operators it sought to tap, Privacy International said in a release.