Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday tweeted that the world’s largest video-sharing web portal, YouTube will be restored within 24 hours.
Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) officials told The Express Tribune that at least two stakeholders, the interior minister and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) recommended that the prime minister reopen the website.
“It is now for the prime minister to decide, if and when, the website has to be restored,” a ministry official said. “It appears the government has decided to re-open it,” he added.
The official said that Malik was most insistent on YouTube’s restoration. He met with the PTA officials on Friday and tweeted about the restoration of the website hours later.
When asked for a confirmation of his statement, Malik told The Express Tribune to “wait for a notification from the PTA.”
Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), a body comprising ministry of IT, ministry of religious affairs and interior ministry, besides PTA and security agencies, mandated to deliberate and decide the YouTube issue, sent a summary to the prime minister after its final meeting last week.
The summary contained a strong recommendation from the interior ministry which the PTA half-heartedly endorsed.
“The security agencies strongly opposed the idea of re-opening YouTube, fearing it could spark a public backlash as the controversial video is still on it,” said an official of MoIT familiar with the contents of the summary.
PTA with much reluctance assured the committee that it had the capability to block any objectionable material on the website in the future. However, a MoIT official said that they did not have any such technology as yet.
PTA was supposed to acquire this technology to remove, or at least block, objectionable videos from any website and establish a state-of-the-art call centre early this year. However, they are nowhere close to achieving the goal by the end of 2012, the official said.
“The PTA was lying if it claimed it had the technology to completely block or control the objectionable web material in the country,” a MoIT official asserted.
He added that the IMC, in its recommendations, asked the premier to direct PTA to expedite the process of acquiring this technology.
The committee further recommended that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly completes the process of signing Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the government of United States. The treaty allows the government to officially request Google Inc., YouTube’s owner, to remove objectionable material from its portal, through the US government.
The government banned YouTube in Pakistan in September this year following the controversial blasphemous video triggered countrywide violent protests. The IMC decided to uphold the ban after YouTube refused to remove the controversial video.
The web portal asked PTA to make a request through a proper channel (the US government) as they were not bound to obey Pakistan’s local laws. However, due to the absence of MLAT between US and Pakistani authorities PTA has been unable to issue a formal request.
Sana Saleem at BoloBhi, an activist group which campaigned against the imposition of the ban on YouTube, termed the blockade ridiculous. In an email to The Express Tribune she said, “while it’s great that YouTube is finally unblocked, it’s damaging (to learn) that the authorities are once again trying to pursue a filtering and blocking system.”
Similarly, social entrepreneur and activist Shoaib Taimur said, “My fear is that they will use this to censor content. Unblocking YouTube is just a ruse as censorship is far from over. Who decides what to censor and under what pretext?” (With additional reporting by Gibran Ashraf in Karachi)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2012.