Virtual watchdog: Internet users banned from browsing privately for ‘security reasons’

Published: August 28, 2011

PTA says using VPN's hampers ability of the government to monitor for terrorist activity.

KARACHI: 

In an effort to ramp up the monitoring of internet security, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has directed all ISPs to prevent internet users from using technology that would allow them to privately browse the internet. This was stated in a PTA notice provided to The Express Tribune by a source at an Islamabad-based internet service provider (ISP).

The notice states, ‘In line with [Monitoring & Reconciliation of International Telephone Traffic] Regulations 2010 and national security, Authority prohibited usage of all such mechanisms including encrypted virtual private networks (EVPNs) which conceal communication to the extent that prohibits monitoring.’ The notice further stated, ‘It is observed that the aforementioned directive has not been followed in true letter and spirit as EVPNs are heavily being used on the Licensees Network.’

A PTA spokesman said that the directive was intended only to stop militants from using secure internet connections to communicate with each other, but admitted that this could only be done by preventing all internet users in Pakistan from using VPNs. A VPN allows two or more users to share data without letting anyone else monitor it.

‘Access denied’

Meanwhile, the PTA has become increasingly aggressive in blocking websites in the country. The entire website of Rolling Stone, a pop-culture and politics magazine, has been blocked since July. The PTA spokesman confirmed that the website has been blocked but said he did not know why it had been done so.

The source at the Islamabad ISP said that they had been issued a notice to block a blog post by a writer, Matt Taibbi, on the Rolling Stone website. However, the source said that ISPs are unable to block specific URLs on websites and have to block the whole domain.

The post in question was titled ‘Pakistan’s insane military spending up there with America’s.’

The post quoted a column written by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that criticised the Pakistan Army for having a vast budget that was used only to guard against India, and not to fight militants. Taibbi has quoted this section to point out that most of the criticisms directed against Pakistan could be applied to the US and its military budget too.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.

Reader Comments (47)

  • Aug 28, 2011 - 2:13AM

    This is one of the most ridiculous steps taken by PTA. We should have freedom to atleast surf the web privately if we want to.

    Recommend

  • km
    Aug 28, 2011 - 3:02AM

    funny as it is the ‘ROLLING STONES” site can still be accessed using a proxy server/webpage. lolz

    Recommend

  • Aug 28, 2011 - 3:33AM

    That’s ridiculous! PTA should allow us to have atleast some privacy if we want to while surfing on the internet.

    Recommend

  • dc
    Aug 28, 2011 - 8:27AM

    The USA/India/Israel does the same..

    Recommend

  • xen
    Aug 28, 2011 - 10:44AM

    corrupt government doing what they always do.

    Recommend

  • wah wah
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:24PM

    @DC “The USA/India/Israel does the same..” so this is your excuse.. they do a lot of other stuff as well, should we follow their footsteps in other avenues as well. or maybe you want Pakistan to be mentioned in the same light as the countries you mentioned.

    Recommend

  • Anwar
    Aug 28, 2011 - 1:43PM

    This is insane. EVPN provides security of data between two points. Simply put all secure channels like mail log-in, banking transactions etc are sort of VPN providing security from snoopers. If Government wants to hamper eCommerce in this country then they should go ahead and do it. BTW if someone wants to visit those sites which Government doesn’t want us to see then there are many methods. Even China could not block/filter its 100% traffic.

    Government Policy makers of are all big nuts.

    Recommend

  • Aug 28, 2011 - 3:08PM

    great job well not that big thing for me :dRecommend

  • shafiq chughtai
    Aug 28, 2011 - 8:28PM

    let em do it if they think its important, there are alot of challenges we are facing and we atleast should co operate with the government sumtym !may be its done for right reasons !!!!

    Recommend

  • Sheeda from Lahore ,Shurli form Isloo
    Aug 29, 2011 - 12:21AM

    What next? they are going to monitor our blueberries too…..oh wait!

    Recommend

  • angar bangar shangar
    Aug 29, 2011 - 12:22AM

    @wah wah:
    No it is not but our beloved troll forget what happens in their land all the times.

    Recommend

  • karachiite
    Aug 29, 2011 - 2:06AM

    Make voip legal. Require all service providers to provide ca.ll intereception facilities and both grey trafficking will stop as will security problems with potential terrorists using encryption for calling. If encryption still noticed simply raid the site

    Recommend

  • naeem khan
    Aug 29, 2011 - 5:02AM

    Funny, I did not know anything about this article by Matt Taibbi,now I am looking for it and will read it too.Stupid idea by the government, corrupt government do stupid things to deny the citizens about their nefarious designs.Get a life PPP

    Recommend

  • Democracy is the best revenge
    Aug 29, 2011 - 11:47AM

    @dc:
    VPNs blocked in the US?? I don’t think so. Probably not true of India or Israel either.
    Only in our country is there a complete lack of understanding of privacy, freedom of speech and individual liberties.

    This move is probably to enable them to be able to censor the internet better, when needed for political purposes. If they block news sites, youtube, fb, twitter to block some upsetting news, it won’t be so easy to get around.Recommend

  • BruteForce
    Aug 29, 2011 - 2:13PM

    @dc:

    How do you know? Can you show me such authoritarian steps with regard to Internet from these Countries?

    They only ban such sites which are deemed illegal as per their law. In Pakistan even Facebook was banned, but that can never happen in any of these Countries.

    Recommend

  • Democrat
    Aug 29, 2011 - 2:45PM

    Guys in todays day and age its pretty difficult to impose such censors as many of you must have discovered One can very easily read this article by Googling the key phrase or the headline and voila come many other sites which carry the so called not to be seen article.

    Recommend

  • sami
    Aug 29, 2011 - 7:59PM

    they blocked ROLLING STONES but couldnt block REDTUBE shame on their ideology

    Recommend

  • salman
    Aug 29, 2011 - 10:48PM

    Rafiq and others……why criticize for the sake of criticism…..Internet in monitored in US, China, UK, India, KSA and many other countries… Pakistan’s security concerns are bigger than you privacy(which no one cares about)…..BTW, if you are not into illegal/banned stuff, you have nothing to worry about…

    Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Aug 30, 2011 - 7:04PM

    I am from India. I can access that site. It seems here is it not blocked. I never heard any site blocked here.

    Recommend

  • Grima
    Aug 30, 2011 - 11:25PM

    @ DC, I can assure you that VPNs are NOT illegal in the USA. Nor is TOR, or SSH tunneling or strong crypto.

    Recommend

  • Faried Nawaz
    Aug 31, 2011 - 12:19AM

    People who aren’t doing anything illegal deserve some measure of privacy. I’m sure you, Salman, shafiq, and dc, understand that at some level, because you take care not to reveal your email account passwords, or bank account details, or a myriad of other personal bits of information, to the world (or the government). Like it or not, you rely on encryption for some of that. This ruling works against you.

    Recommend

  • Aug 31, 2011 - 12:43AM

    This is quite sad. Internet users should have the ability to visit whatever sites they like by whatever means they wish to take.

    Recommend

  • Rahoul Baruah
    Aug 31, 2011 - 12:59AM

    This means I can’t use any staff in Pakistan.

    My clients will not stand for me allowing their data and source code to pass over unencrypted connections and my contracts state that I will not pass on their data to unauthorised third parties. Without encryption I would be breaking those contracts, so no business in Pakistan for me.

    Recommend

  • Aaron
    Aug 31, 2011 - 2:59AM

    We exchange privacy for luxury and security. Are world is falling apart.

    Recommend

  • Imran Ashraf
    Aug 31, 2011 - 3:23AM

    Well, I believe they should monitor and control the access of the all websites of normal users. They should permit Vpn the companies / persons who need it and they should be registered. Privecy is not imortant than country’s security. one thing everyone should understand. The personal information and privacy is usless to any agency. They have nothing to do what you surf, to whom you talk, what u see on net, your affairs n issues with all over the world. BUT if there is anything related to country’s security, it will help them alot.
    What do you think, your emails. sms, calls are not traced and checked ?
    be mature.

    Recommend

  • Jeffrey B Garner
    Aug 31, 2011 - 3:58AM

    As an American, my heart goes out to those of you who will have their internet access restricted. Freedom of information should be a basic right available to all of humanity. I understand that some of you are indecisive about the issue, and I also understand your point of view.

    Hopefully the freedoms that exist elsewhere in the world will be given to places such as this.

    Recommend

  • Aug 31, 2011 - 5:57AM

    @dc:
    No, the US does not. For some reason I’m not surprised you didn’t include anything backing it up.

    Recommend

  • USA
    Aug 31, 2011 - 6:06AM

    Salman and DC are obviously either working for the Paki gov’t or are sympathizers because everything they have said is plain wrong:

    1. VPN’s are not prohibited in any way, shape or form in the USA, Canada, or most–if not all–Western countries.

    2. No nationwide filtering mechanism is in place in the USA, Canada, or most of those countries either, so they CAN NOT BAN a web site. They may come after you for using certain file-sharing or gambling sites, however.

    Specifically, here in the USA the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bans banning web sites since it is considered freedom of speech–something not guaranteed in many countries, especially Islamic, Communist, and Fascist ones.Recommend

  • Mr Doe
    Aug 31, 2011 - 7:04AM

    @Imran Ashraf:
    The problem is simple and it is this, we have learnt through experience in having security agencies with these powers for many years that despite assurances it will not only be used for security, and you’re terribly naive if you think so. Even in countries where the political class supposedly has full control of their agencies we’ve had COINTELPRO, Watergate, spying on opposition parties etc.

    Let’s say someone for example had a political agenda ordered the security services to monitor everyone who they thought was against that agenda. Could the security service actually say no and would they? It’s a risky thing to pick a fight with the ruling party in any country, career over bye bye.

    Also permitting individuals and companies who need VPN to use it on a case by case basis, is a recipe for commercial suicide. It will become a bureaucratic nightmare, and when that kind of thing is weighed in whether to send programming or call centre work to Pakistan, the work will get sent to India instead. Pakistan is a great country, with a great future ahead of it, you should not abandon the future for fear of terrorists, unless you want them to win that is.

    Recommend

  • Faried Nawaz
    Aug 31, 2011 - 7:35AM

    A lot of what your examples are actually not true, Imran. They clearly do care what the ordinary person views online — otherwise, why ban encrypted VPNs which prevent them from picking apart your viewing habits? They do care about who we talk with online because they’ve had regulations in place asking ISPs to track and store email for 90+ days — and those regulations have existed for almost a decade now. They’re not exactly happy with encrypted voice comms, either (Skype, etc).

    If you woke up one day and no longer had access to free email providers (gmail, Yahoo! mail, Hotmail, etc.) would you still feel that they have a right to control access to online services? Not long after Google launched Buzz, Iran blocked Gmail precisely because they couldn’t prevent their users from talking in private on Buzz without accessing Gmail as well. Do you want the government to have that sort of control here, too?

    This affects businesses as well as individuals. If your communication system is insecure (not encrypted), how hard is it for a competitor to bribe someone in the government to leak the details of your deals? Someone up above mentioned outsourcing.

    I recommend you look at the mess caused by France’s regulations against encryption, a few years ago. They, too, did it for “security” reasons.

    Recommend

  • Solomon Grundy
    Aug 31, 2011 - 8:16AM

    Well guys, incase you hadnt noticed it – Terrorists, Insurgents, Extremists or whatever you want to call them use the Internet in private fashion to communicate more freely. As a result – you folks are being punished as well. As there is only one internet, the Law tends to apply to everyone. I suspect people will find a way around this.

    Also this does not surprise me. Pakistan is a hyper anal Islamist state. They are no different then China when it comes to monitoring ‘dangerous information’. They dont want guys looking at porn or watching American movies, or girls looking at American fashion or learning how to read. So im sorry to say this – but you cant be to surprised. I for one live in Canada – if our Government decided to do this – then I would be worried. But when the Pakistani Government does it – they have the default ‘Islamic values’ factor to rely on.

    Besides, this is the same Government that said they didnt know Osama Bin Laden was hanging out at a compound inside a Military base. The most recognizable Face in the world and body that would tower over most folks and they didnt know. I suspect that this is a dual operation. One to combat pro democratic movements in the Country , the other – to enforce the strong arm of the Law.

    Pakistan is as corrupt as a virus infected Computer. Half of the Army and intelligence services help Al Qaida and the Taliban – while the other half try to do the right thing. They would rather spend their GDP on Military spending – then feeding the masses of starving folks…

    Recommend

  • Aug 31, 2011 - 9:11AM

    Looking at the credibility of articles posted on Express Tribune, I’d rather ask for proper sources and evidence of this ban before I believe a single piece of this “allegation”.

    Every Tom, Dick and Harry is allowed to publish here without any prior research. I’d like too see more this time before I call it credible.

    Recommend

  • Aug 31, 2011 - 11:00AM

    Did anyone actually bother to read what PTA says? Please do read first!

    http://www.pta.gov.pk/media/monitoringtelephonytrafficreg070510.pdf

    Recommend

  • BigDude
    Aug 31, 2011 - 11:10AM

    vPNs do not work in UAE as well.

    Recommend

  • Freed0mF1ghter
    Aug 31, 2011 - 11:15AM

    To any Pakistani willing to read the rolling stone’s article: tinyurl(DOT)com/pakistanspending

    Recommend

  • slash
    Aug 31, 2011 - 1:11PM

    I am a Network Engineer at an ISP and this is old/incorrect news. Actually they’ve banned all unregistered encrypted VPNs not encryption. Anyone who is using an encrypted VPN now has to get registered with the PTA. It is mainly due to people running VoIP in tunnels using encrypted VPNs. PTA CAN and DOES monitor ALL traffic including http,https, pop, smtp (emails) etc. People using non-encrypted VPNs or registered call centers with a license from PTA have nothing to worry about. It doesn’t effect normal, everyday users in anyway.

    Recommend

  • Faizan
    Aug 31, 2011 - 2:03PM

    This is a stupid step. A lot of IT workers in Pakistan use VPN to connect to remote locations to develop/manage softwares and network. Most companies have secure networks.

    If they block VPNs then people won’t be able to perform their duties and this would hurt our outsourcing a lot.

    By the way, no one needs VPN to securely communicate. Just use Skype as it has pretty good encryption for both voice and text chat.Recommend

  • Anselmus Gloff
    Aug 31, 2011 - 3:34PM

    @slash:
    How many companies will trust the PTA? The idea with VPNs is that you do not need to worry about information leaking from ther local ISPs and government officials with access to the network hardware. Key escrow in encryption is equal to giving the 3rd party full access to the information protected by the keys.

    Would you trust the Pakistani government officials with access to your company’s international bank accounts? I wouldn’t

    Recommend

  • Aug 31, 2011 - 4:13PM

    Personally I cannot see this being successfull.
    VPNs or (EVPNs) as it is described in the above article will prevent legitimate businesses employees working from home.

    Whilst this may not be a major issue or concern in Pakistan, if other countries were to follow suit in Europe, America and Eastern Asia, I could see this easily becoming a problem.

    On one side you have the networks who will argue…

    We ave the right to ensure no body is abusing the terms and conditions to use our network and services not commiting illegal acts (such as downloading child porn, copyrighten materials so forth)

    In the US, they are trying to push for the Government to be responsible for Copyright claims rather than the copyright owner

    Internet Users are campaigning for privacy

    What people tend to forget is the internet was originally designed for freedom of communication and speech, and did not permit e-commerce until 1994.
    To moitor internet activity for the benefit of business trading goes against what the internet was originally set up to do.

    Recommend

  • Amir
    Aug 31, 2011 - 8:17PM

    Reverse this move before its too late!

    Recommend

  • enron
    Aug 31, 2011 - 11:52PM

    I’m so glad I won’t have to worry about doing business with Pakistan anymore. Say goodbye to their economy.

    Recommend

  • Jeffrey Garner
    Sep 1, 2011 - 5:43AM

    @USA:
    Theres plenty of takedowns that involve rerouting a DNS, CIA, FBI and copywrite sites are all blocked when they are siezed, some internet service providers, (some not all) filter and monitor content in the US, if you google it, there are pleanty of stories from respectable journal publishers in the first few pages.

    Recommend

  • Sep 1, 2011 - 6:34AM

    I can’t imagine that businesses are taking this lying down. This is the equivalent of saying no telework or work-related internet communications of a sensitive nature (i.e. “all”) are no longer permitted in Pakistan!

    Recommend

  • Sep 1, 2011 - 8:08AM

    @enron:

    Instead of ours you better get worried about your own sinking economy which is going to make you guys beggars soon.

    Recommend

  • faith
    Sep 1, 2011 - 5:52PM

    o teri !!!!! :-o

    Recommend

More in Business