The Peshawar High Court (PHC) has directed the federal government to adopt the proposal of an inter-ministerial committee to sign treaties with Google, YouTube and other similar service providers to establish regional offices in the country.
PHC Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Asadullah Khan Chamkani issued the orders on Tuesday while hearing Arif Jan’s application stating social media website Facebook contained blasphemous material. Jan had, however, refused to share the links in court fearing nationwide protests.
On May 28, the court ordered the pages in question be blocked within three days and sought a reply from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, secret agencies and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
During the case hearing on Tuesday, officials from the information ministry, PTA and interior ministry appeared in court.
The information ministry official informed the pages have been blocked and a number of other pages containing pornographic and blasphemous content are being blocked daily upon receiving reports.
The court questioned why the ministry had to wait to receive complaints. Instead, it should adopt a procedure to automatically block such content before it reaches the people and results in nationwide protests and damaged public and private property, added the bench.
The PTA official replied no such system exists anywhere in the world. He further informed the court around 20,000 Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) have been banned for containing unwanted material.
He claimed the only solution to the problem was to get service providers like Google, YouTube and others to establish regional offices in Pakistan, adding they would then be liable to follow local laws. The official said the inter-ministerial committee looking into the matter has also proposed setting up such an office so that controversial content can be blocked.
The court observed Iran, India and some other countries have already adopted such measures and directed the federal government to expedite the process of enacting the proposals of the inter-ministerial committee. The petition was later disposed of.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2013.