Pakistan government using Netsweeper for internet filtering: Report

Published: June 20, 2013

“Netsweeper technology is being implemented in Pakistan for purposes of political and social filtering."

The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto has uncovered that Canada-based Netsweeper internet filtering products have been installed to function at the national level in Pakistan.

According to the new report, “Netsweeper technology is being implemented in Pakistan for purposes of political and social filtering, including websites of secessionist movements, sensitive religious topics, and independent media.”

In addition to using Netsweeper technology to block websites, it was found that local ISPs also use other less transparent methods such as DNS tampering to block content.

The report stated that Netsweeper has categorised over five billion URLs in total, adding approximately 10 million new URLs every day.

Its online filtering solution provides clients with an automated mechanism to bulk-filter multiple content categories that can be customised.

The report concluded that “altogether, the evidence suggests that Netsweeper filtering devices are being actively used to censor content on an ISP-wide level in Pakistan”.

Background

In 2012, the Ministry of Information Technology had solicited proposals for a national level URL filtering system.

Pakistan has been known to limit internet freedom in the past, with Facebook and Twitter being banned for brief periods though they were unblocked soon after.

YouTube remains blocked in the country since September 17, 2012. It was blocked on orders by then-prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf after the video sharing website refused to honour requests of the Pakistan government to block or remove clips from a sacrilegious film from the website.

Following the ban, an inter-ministerial committee comprising representatives from IT ministry, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), religious affairs ministry, intelligence agencies and other stakeholders was formed to look into the issue and suggest a solution.

Extremely worrying development

Bolo Bhi, a non-profit global network initiative, said that this is an extremely worrying development.

Last year, Bolo Bhi wrote to western surveillance technology companies informing them that selling the technology to the Pakistan government would be a human rights violation and demanded a commitment.

However, Bolo Bhi claimed that Netsweeper was one of the three companies, out of eight, that did not respond to the request. Netsweeper allegedly decided to sell the filtering products to Pakistan, despite civil society advocacy groups informing them that the technology will have terrible repercussions for the country. This, according to the press release, is in violation to the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ignorance of “Know Your Customer” Standards for Sales of Surveillance Equipment.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Mj
    Jun 20, 2013 - 2:24PM

    Pakistan is moving backwards. Citizens should have the freedom to freely access information.

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  • Imran
    Jun 20, 2013 - 2:28PM

    Bogus report.. filtering can only be done on the gateway routers, local ISPs have nothing to do with this. Only a transit ISP can do it. Government can only have Netsweeper installed at the gateway of transit ISP, else there is no option. Come on ET do some research before publishing such reports

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  • Fareed
    Jun 20, 2013 - 2:32PM

    And all the hype and they could not block some URLs from Youtube?! They had to block the whole … zzzz

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  • Jun 20, 2013 - 2:37PM

    Didn’t quite get it. What does it mean?

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  • Pakistani
    Jun 20, 2013 - 2:40PM

    Dear ET, please correct the world map. Kashmir is a conflicted area, not part of India.

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  • jun
    Jun 20, 2013 - 2:40PM

    definitely they will use something for URL filtering .’Using netsweeper’ is not the news

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  • Farhan
    Jun 20, 2013 - 2:58PM

    I direly wish to see ET website blocked, once and forever

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  • Zubair
    Jun 20, 2013 - 3:02PM

    @Pakistani:
    They continue to make this mistakes, often

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  • zahid
    Jun 20, 2013 - 3:03PM

    @Imran:
    A country level filtering would logically be deployed at the gateway routers, so I am not sure why are you conflicting the approach? local ISPs are always against the filtering, due to cost, management overhead of the filtering solution.

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  • Patriot
    Jun 20, 2013 - 3:06PM

    Dear ET! Why you bothering so much to show Kashmir as part of india..? Aman ki Asha or Aman ka Tamaasha ?

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  • Baba Ji
    Jun 20, 2013 - 3:29PM

    Good … it must be done !!!! If the first world countries like U.S. and U.K. are doing it in a “free world” then why not us ?

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  • Zafar Ahmed
    Jun 20, 2013 - 3:37PM

    @Imran:
    Read it again,

    In addition to using Netsweeper technology to block websites, it was found that local ISPs also use other less transparent methods such as DNS tampering to block content.

    All ISPs use some sort of filtering. The news didn’t say they use Netsweeper.

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  • GaliKaSweeper
    Jun 20, 2013 - 4:19PM

    Everybody should just get VPNs in this day and age

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  • Jun 20, 2013 - 5:16PM

    Stop blabbing, get a VPN like ultrasurf. Nothing can be done for the GOvernment.

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  • Farieha
    Jun 20, 2013 - 5:24PM

    @Imran

    Read the report: https://citizenlab.org/2013/06/o-pakistan/#50

    It says: “Netsweeper filtering products have been installed on Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL)’s network. PTCL is Pakistan’s largest telecommunications company and also operates the Pakistan Internet Exchange Point.”

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  • Asad
    Jun 20, 2013 - 5:51PM

    ET and its been ages now since I read this news on some blog. This much Delay? Is it because of a slow internet connection? :)

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  • Daud
    Jun 20, 2013 - 8:11PM

    It’s not a big deal; every modern and civilized nation has such kind of barrier on the internet in regards to their social and cultural norms. I am wondering only in our country, where most of the people don’t use internet for betterment or in positive direction, this issue attached with “speech/expression of freedom”. I’m in favor there should be a watchdog on internet activities/websites because it’s not the matter of “freedom” rather it’s a matter of “responsibility”

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  • jiyala
    Jun 20, 2013 - 8:48PM

    You’re late to the party ET. Netsweeper was implemented about 3 weeks ago.

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  • Jun 20, 2013 - 10:14PM

    Find your dream job, Job posting and find jobs in Pakistan, Post your free adds, Find more than 50k jobs in Pakitan and get free updates, ppnclassifieds is Pakitan largest webite where top companied are post there jobs.

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  • yasir
    Jun 22, 2013 - 12:24AM

    bogus or not, I think this is pathetic. Pakistan is taking steps back. Citizens should have the right to information and media. Pakistan should not be moving towards what North Korea is. Absolutely pathetic. Bangladesh has lifted the ban. There are pressing social issues in the country. Health, poverty etc and the government are prancing and tearing up over youtube. LEAVE YOUTUBE OPEN AND ADDRESS REAL ISSUES. sad excuse of a state.

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