YouTube users in Pakistan will probably have to wait much longer than they anticipated before they can call up the popular video-sharing website again.
The problem stems from the fact that Pakistan and the United States lack a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which is what the company usually uses to filter out objectionable videos.
Google, which owns YouTube, has refused to remove the anti-Islam video that triggered widespread protests across the country. As a result, the authorities banned the website indefinitely. Two months have passed since then.
In the absence of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the United States, all that Pakistan can do is use diplomatic channels to request the US government to make the social website accept Pakistan’s demand, according to an information technology ministry official.
“I am sure the US government will respect our request,” said the official. “YouTube has always asked us to use MLAT for requests to remove the video as they are not bound by our local laws,” he added.
The treaty, according to the official, allows and facilitates two governments to enforce public and criminal laws. But Pakistan and the US have no such treaty between them. The IT ministry has already asked the foreign ministry to initiate the treaty. “It is a long process. It will take at least a year to materialise,” said the official.
The assistance under MLAT provides for “immobilisationof the instruments of criminal activity” which can be used to pressure Google for the removal of any objectionable content that violates local public or criminal laws or damages a partner country’s interests, said an official from the IT ministry’s legal department.
“This is the only possible way out at present. YouTube management is not ready to remove the controversial video despite our repeated requests, and we cannot restore the social website until it does so,” the IT ministry official said.
“To block the website, the IT ministry received approval from the prime minister on the condition that YouTube will remain blocked until it removes the video,” he said. An inter-ministerial committee that includes the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), ministry of religious affairs, the Intelligence Bureau, the Telecom Department, IT ministry and others is the only authorised body to order YouTube’s restoration. “It was blocked on the same committee’s orders,” said the official.
The IT ministry cannot supersede the premier’s orders or the committee’s decision to restore the website on its own. That decision lies with the prime minister. “If he wishes to restore the website as it is, he needs to issue an order to the IT ministry but he cannot risk ignoring the committee’s decision,” the official added.
The government doesn’t want to risk restoring the website with the controversial video still accessible. The alleged blasphemous video triggered violent protests across Pakistan and much of the Muslim world.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2012.