One of many problems with allowing the government to block websites is that pretty soon, censorship becomes the new norm. The ban on video-sharing site YouTube is well into its third month and we seem to have accepted this as a reality when, instead, we need to be pointing out just how ludicrous the ban really is. To block access to one blasphemous video (which no one in his or her right mind would watch anyway), the government has ended up depriving us of millions of other videos. Yet, the government does not shut down libraries and bookshops for stocking one objectionable book. That the ban is still in effect is a scandal that deserves more attention. The government is trying to send us back into the 20th century and the problem is that it seems to be winning.
There have been previous government attempts at Internet censorship with Blogger, Twitter and Facebook facing the wrath of the authorities at various times. But no ban has been as long lasting as the YouTube ban. The fear now is that the government will be emboldened and revive plans to build a monitoring and blocking system along the lines of the Great Firewall of China. This will mean reduced Internet speed for everyone, even greater government intrusion and the end of Internet freedom in the country. It is a battle we must be prepared to fight in order to beat down spurious charges that the bans are only being put in place because of national security or religion.
The government’s Internet censorship policies do not extend only to websites that might stir religious fervour. The government has been equally enthusiastic in blocking the websites of Baloch nationalists and separatists, a decision that reeks of political bullying. So afraid are the authorities that the Baloch cause might appeal to many that it prefers to shut off access to the argument altogether. These are the actions of a weak and fearful state. That is why it is necessary for us to loudly demand that the Internet be left alone.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2012.
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