Following the absence of the secretary and federal minister for information technology at Friday’s hearing of a petition challenging the ban on access to YouTube in Pakistan, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court on Friday directed them to appear in court on August 7.
An additional secretary for the ministry told the court that IT and Telecom Minister Anusha Rehman could not appear in court as she was busy drafting the IT policy. A deputy attorney general told the court that the secretary could not appear in court due to an eye infection. He added that the government had not allowed access to the website due to security concerns.
Justice Shah said that the public could not be denied access to the internet and it was up to the government to take the decisions.
During earlier hearings, Farieha Aziz, the director of Bolo Bhi, had submitted that there was no way of restricting access to information on the internet.
She had said that a simple solution was not to watch the objectionable content available on the internet.
“Letting the state make such decisions for the people sets a dangerous precedent,” she said, “Without intermediary liability protection as a primer, no company would be willing to have local laws applied to it.” Aziz said that surveillance and filtering software were in place in the country and that the technology side of the debate would remain murky till the debate on what systems were currently in place in Pakistan was established.
Allowing such technology to be placed in the hands of state authorities would be the equivalent of giving them a carte blanche for setting up roadblocks wherever they pleased, restricting access to areas and breaking into citizens’ homes, she said.
The court had previously remarked that it was important to understand the nature of the problem. Information over the internet in this age could not be blocked, but could be intelligently regulated, it said.
There were no borders or walls that could limit the information from flowing into Pakistan unless, of course, Pakistan shut down the internet completely and severed links with the outside world, it said. A sustainable answer to the problem was self regulation at the individual and house-hold level, the court said. The court is hearing a petition challenging the YouTube ban filed by an NGO, Bytes for All, through Advocate Yasir Hamdani. He has submitted that filtering and blocking information on the internet is counterproductive and predatory.
The petitioner has sought directions for the Ministry of Information Technology and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to reopen the functioning of YouTube.
YouTube was blocked across Pakistan on September 17, 2012, following orders by then-prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. The PM had imposed the ban after YouTube refused to remove from its website, The Innocence of Muslims, a movie the Pakistani government said was blasphemous.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2013.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ