Like Lazarus, the Pakistan government’s internet censorship efforts keep rising from the dead. In the name of protecting its citizens from blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the Ministry of Information Technology decided to ban for around a day social media website Twitter, which has hundreds of thousands of users in Pakistan. Clearly, the ministry needs to change its name since it has no clue how the internet works and its action seems to betray a totalitarian streak. Tens of millions of people use Twitter to share links and photos and post updates. Given the freewheeling nature of Web 2.0, a tiny minority of these users will invariably end up posting items that will not be to the liking of Pakistanis – but does that mean the whole website be banned? Going by the same logic, why not just go ahead and ban the whole internet? (Of course, some bright minds in the IT ministry will think that this can be done!)
As we don’t have much of the world already laughing at us or looking at us in disapproval, we now saw this overreaction of monumental proportions from the government. While the site was eventually unblocked, on orders of the prime minister no less, by Sunday night, the fact remains that the restriction shouldn’t have been imposed to begin with. A plan to build a giant all-encompassing firewall along the lines of the one in China was shelved after a public outcry. For some reason, the website of US-based pop-culture magazine Rolling Stone is still banned.
These bans all reveal that the government is fundamentally insecure and unable to trust its citizens to use the internet. Censorship is a tool of the weak, used to deprive people of information because the government is worried what might be done with that information. Blocking access to information used to be easier in the pre-internet days; now it is doomed to failure. All the government can achieve is making itself look ridiculous by censoring the internet. The fact of the matter is that the government has no right to indulge in such censorship in this day and age, lest it wants to appear as a fool in the eyes of not only the outside world but its own citizens as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.
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