LAHORE: Lahore High Court has asked minister and secretary of Information Technology to appear before the court on August 7 in a petition challenging the ban on access to video sharing website YouTube in Pakistan after he failed to appear on Friday.
An additional secretary for the minister appeared before the court and said that the minister was busy in the preparation of the IT policy.
A deputy attorney general submitted before the court that the secretary could not appear before the court due to an eye infection. He also submitted that the government was not allowing access to the website due to ‘security concerns’.
At this the judge remarked that access to internet could not be denied and it was up to the people to make decisions at such points.
During earlier hearings, the director of Bolo Bhi Farieha Aziz, an expert in the matter, had submitted before the court that there was no way of restricting access to information on the internet.
She added that a simple solution would be to not to watch the objectionable content available on the internet.
Empowering the state to make such decisions for the people at large sets a dangerous precedent, she said. Without intermediary liability protection as a primer, no company would be willing to have local laws applied on it. However, that was not reason enough for a company to localise, she added.
Aziz said that surveillance and filtering software were in place in the country and that the technology side of the debate would remain murky till the debate on what systems were currently in place in Pakistan was established.
Allowing such technology to be placed in the hands of state authorities would be the equivalent of giving them a carte blanche for setting up roadblocks wherever they pleased, restricting access to areas and breaking into citizens’ homes, she said.
The court in its previous order had remarked that it was important to understand the nature of the problem. Information over the internet in this age could not be blocked, but could be intelligently regulated, it said.
There were no borders or walls that could limit the information from flowing into Pakistan unless of course Pakistan shut down the internet completely and severed its links with the outside world, it said.
A sustainable answer to the problem was self regulation at the individual and house-hold level, the court said.
The court was hearing a petition challenging the YouTube ban filed by an NGO Bytes for All through its advocate Yasir Hamdani. He submitted that filtering and blocking information on the internet was counterproductive and predatory.
The petitioner sought directions for the Ministry of IT and the PTA to reopen the functioning of YouTube.
YouTube was blocked across Pakistan on September 17, 2012 following orders by then-Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. The PM had imposed the ban after YouTube refused to remove what the Pakistani government felt was a blasphemous film, The Innocence of the Muslims, from its website.