Pak takes criminal action against six officials

Islamabad: Pakistan authorities have initiated criminal proceedings against six officials who allegedly accessed the personal information of Army chief General Asim Munir’s family, a media report said on Saturday.

The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the top national body tasked with issuing national identity cards and passports by storing data of citizens, took action against its employees following probes.

An informed source told the Dawn newspaper that the elements on whose behest the breach took place were also being acted against and as many as six Nadra employees were dismissed from service for illegally accessing the Chief of Army Staff’s family’s record, following four separate inquiries.

The inquiries were ordered by Nadra Chairman Tariq Malik on December 23, 2022, and March 2, 2023.

A joint probe conducted by Nadra and a sensitive security agency in December last year discovered that Farooq Ahmed, a junior executive employee working on a project of the Benazir Income Support Programme, was the first person to have unlawfully accessed the data in question.

The high-powered inquiry committee on the direction of the incumbent chairman expanded the scope of the investigation by technically analysing logins, user IDs, system logs and IP addresses that were intact, reflecting the strength of the authority’s database.

This led to the identification of a total of 10 employees who illegally accessed records of the Army chief’s family. After a fact-finding inquiry, the suspects were cross-examined and a detailed probe was launched.

Hence, a chargesheet into the imputations of accessing the COAS family’s data unauthorisedly and illegally was subsequently issued to the accused employees on January 6. As a result, in two inquiries the committee found six officials responsible.

He said a committee imposed a major penalty of termination from service under the Government Servants (Efficiency & Discipline) Rules 1973 on these six employees, according to the newspaper.

Separately, in a message to the employees, Malik while talking about other aspects also alluded to the incident involving data of COAS’ family and said six officials down from the level of a junior executive to director have been removed from service and criminal cases against them were being filed.

He urged the employees to keep in mind the fundamental principle that be it a common citizen or an important office holder, the secrecy and security of their data should be the foremost priority, the report said.

The issue of access to the details of the family members of the army chief surfaced in the media after his appointment in November last year, but it is for the first time that details have emerged about the criminal activity and the action taken by the authorities.

The exact purpose of the access to the data is not known yet.

Munir was serving as a Lieutenant General at the time of the alleged data breach, in line to be appointed to the top post.

The Dawn newspaper earlier had said, two Pakistani journalists claimed in a vlog that in October 2022, personal data and travel records of Gen. Munir’s family were allegedly accessed by Nadra officers in a bid to stop his appointment as the Chief of Army Staff.

Munir, a former spymaster, assumed charge as the country’s new Army chief late last year and became the 17th Chief of the Army Staff. He replaced Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who retired after two consecutive three-year terms.