In an effort to ramp up the monitoring of internet security, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has directed all ISPs to prevent internet users from using technology that would allow them to privately browse the internet. This was stated in a PTA notice provided to The Express Tribune by a source at an Islamabad-based internet service provider (ISP).
The notice states, ‘In line with [Monitoring & Reconciliation of International Telephone Traffic] Regulations 2010 and national security, Authority prohibited usage of all such mechanisms including encrypted virtual private networks (EVPNs) which conceal communication to the extent that prohibits monitoring.’ The notice further stated, ‘It is observed that the aforementioned directive has not been followed in true letter and spirit as EVPNs are heavily being used on the Licensees Network.’
A PTA spokesman said that the directive was intended only to stop militants from using secure internet connections to communicate with each other, but admitted that this could only be done by preventing all internet users in Pakistan from using VPNs. A VPN allows two or more users to share data without letting anyone else monitor it.
Meanwhile, the PTA has become increasingly aggressive in blocking websites in the country. The entire website of Rolling Stone, a pop-culture and politics magazine, has been blocked since July. The PTA spokesman confirmed that the website has been blocked but said he did not know why it had been done so.
The source at the Islamabad ISP said that they had been issued a notice to block a blog post by a writer, Matt Taibbi, on the Rolling Stone website. However, the source said that ISPs are unable to block specific URLs on websites and have to block the whole domain.
The post in question was titled ‘Pakistan’s insane military spending up there with America’s.’
The post quoted a column written by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that criticised the Pakistan Army for having a vast budget that was used only to guard against India, and not to fight militants. Taibbi has quoted this section to point out that most of the criticisms directed against Pakistan could be applied to the US and its military budget too.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.