Criticism lauded at the government for blocking thousands of adult websites has not been given much fanfare because no one wants to be associated with what can easily be dismissed as a defence of pornography. We are now beginning to realise that the ban on pornography may have just been a trial run for a wholesale censorship of the internet. A division of the Ministry of Information Technology recently placed an advertisement in newspapers seeking proposals for a URL filtering system that has the capacity to deny Pakistanis access to 50 million websites. At present, the government is dependent on sending notices to internet service providers, forcing them to do its dirty work for them. If this proposal comes to fruition, the authorities will be able to block access to any website on a whim.
Basically, Pakistan is seeking to replicate the model used by totalitarian countries to control the internet. This proposal mimics the Great Firewall of China, which allows the communist government to cut-off its citizens from the rest of the world by blocking access to sites like Facebook and Twitter, thereby ensuring that websites which are even mildly critical of the government are not available to Chinese citizens. There are those who will argue that the Pakistani government is only seeking to block access to pornographic websites. But history shows us that a government that feels it has the power to censor the internet will almost always go too far. When the courts ordered the government to block websites containing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), it responded by blocking the entire Blogspot domain. Facebook was also similarly denied to all Pakistanis on the same grounds.
With the firewall in place, the government will be able to take the war on internet freedom to a new level. This should not be seen just as an issue for the technology community but as an affront to the rights of all Pakistanis. The government is seeking to snatch away our freedom and it is our duty to resist this power grab.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2012.