Fact-check: Are Pakistani authorities monitoring WhatsApp chats under the Army Secret Act?
There is no such law as the Army Secret Act in Pakistan, nor is there any law that allows the monitoring of WhatsApp groups in the country
Updated Wednesday Jun 07 2023
A long block of text circulating on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp warns that Pakistan has enacted a new law, known as the Army Secret Act, under which citizens can be prosecuted for private messages critical of the Pakistan army.
The claim is false.
Last month, a message, being forwarded in WhatsApp groups, read: “All group members are informed that the Army Secret Act has come into effect” from May 17.
The text added that from now on law enforcement and secret agencies will be monitoring WhatsApp groups across Pakistan, and anyone found criticising the military or government institutions will be prosecuted.
The message further instructed administrators of WhatsApp groups to keep a record of its members, and to “report any person who was against Pakistan’s institutions to the nearest police station or secret agency representatives.”
There is no such law as the Army Secret Act in Pakistan, nor is there any law that allows the monitoring of WhatsApp groups in the country, three lawyers told Geo Fact Check
“No, there is nothing known as the Army Secret Act,” Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based civil rights lawyer, told Geo Fact Check over the phone. “There are laws called the Official Secrets Act  and the Pakistan Army Act .”
The Official Secrets Act, 1923, is anti-espionage law, while the Army Act, 1952, allows for the trial of military personnel, and in some cases civilians, in military courts.
Jamal also confirmed that none of the above-mentioned laws permit the monitoring of private WhatsApp chats by law-enforcing authorities.
There is, however, the Investigation for Fair Trial Act, 2013, he added. Under this, a valid reason needs to be presented and permission sought from a court in order to tap or monitor a person’s phone.
“Otherwise any monitoring, surveillance or recording is illegal,” Jamal said.
Nighat Dad, a lawyer and digital rights activist, also rubbished the claim of a new law, called the Army Secret Act, being rolled out in Pakistan.
She added that WhatsApp groups cannot be monitored as they are end-to-end encrypted “but if the authorities have any such technology to monitor WhatsApp [chats], even then there is no particular law that allows them to do so.”
Usama Khawar Ghumman, a Lahore-based lawyer and public policy expert, also rejected the false news circulating on WhatsApp about an Army Secret Act, adding that people may be confusing it with the old laws, such as the Official Secrets Act 1923 and the Pakistan Army Act 1952.
Furthermore, Geo Fact Check went through the Official Secrets Act 1923 and did not find any such provisions which allow authorities to monitor WhatsApp groups or ask group members for a record of private conversations on the platform.
A copy of the law is available on the website of the Ministry of Law.
As for the Army Act 1952, Geo Fact Check tried to get an updated copy of the Act, however an official of the ministry of law said the law had not been updated since 2017.
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