The Pakistan government’s war against the internet resulted in the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocking a host of torrent websites that allow people to download music, movies and TV shows. On the face of it, the justification for this ban is that these websites allow users to circumvent copyright laws and steal intellectual property. But a closer look at the manner in which these bans are placed shows just how arbitrary they are. In other countries, a long judicial process is followed before a website can be blocked. The US blocked the streaming site MegaUpload only after getting a court order. In Pakistan, the PTA decides which sites it wants to block and then does so without any accountability whatsoever.
This is exactly what happened when social networking site Twitter was blocked for a day and this process was also followed when banning hundreds of thousands of pornographic websites. The judiciary is not without fault either, ordering the blocking of websites like Facebook, simply to deny users access to an objectionable image or two. This crusade against the internet shows that we have a government that is essentially fighting against modernity. People will always be able to find ways to bypass bans but the country will never recover from the hit it takes to its reputation.
The latest torrent ban makes even less sense than previous ones because pirated DVDs are freely and openly available across the country. There is a chance, perhaps, that the large commercial interests that represent the pirating industry in Pakistan were behind the ban. But for the government to agree to such a ban still means the same thing: those we elect to serve us would much rather rule us with an iron fist. The government wants to be the sole authority on what we can watch and listen to and which websites we can visit. That is a terrifying usurpation of our rights as free citizens that we should be trying to fight back against at every opportunity.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.
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