These are crazy times we live in. We are in this war against bloodthirsty, tech-savvy terrorists for the long haul, no holds barred. This fact must be drilled into naive minds who believe a violation of fundamental rights like freedom of expression, right to information and privacy are a gross overstep by the state. We must remember that our brave parliamentarians have already signed off on such stellar legislation as the Pakistan Telecommunications (Re-organisation) Act, 1996, which allows for communication services to be suspended in the name of ‘national security’.
Needless to say, I support and applaud the Sindh government’s move to block and ban Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Tango. In fact, I am so deeply concerned about the terrorist threat, that, much like the diligent student who compiled a list of 780,000 porn sites for the PTA to ban in 2012, I have come up with a game plan for our security apparatus.
First off, we need to ensure that the current ban on messaging apps is extended to Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and all other visual-based means of online communication. As Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon so astutely noted, the “hoshyaar” terrorists switched from cellular service to online apps to avoid being tracked — what would prevent them from moving on to the next best alternative? I can already picture terrorists Instagramming their way through our vulnerable urban centres, setting up private Pinterest boards highlighting their favourite sites to bomb. Snapchat, in particular, is a threat, as the fact that exchanged photos exploding on a timer will naturally appeal to the twisted, militant mind. Let us not forget that these networks are also chock-full of young people of questionable moral character; the likelihood of these networks turning into a militant recruiting ground are high.
Ban them all I say, but remember, the ban on thousands of pornographic, blasphemous and anti-state websites has really not panned out, as citizens have turned to proxy servers, virtual private networks and tools such as Spotflux, HotSpot Shield and Tor Browser to circumvent such blocks. All these tools need to be banned and all future tools that allow workaround access to Skype, Viber et al must be banned too; else, this whole effort will be worthless.
I also noted that Memon has called on the federal government to contact the companies mentioned above to provide access to private user data. We all remember how successful the government was with Google on this front, so I recommend against turning to these terrorist-enabling scumbags. Instead, we should remember that our brave parliamentarians have recently signed off on The Investigation for Fair Trial Act 2013, which gives security agencies the authority to collect evidence online “by means of modern techniques and devices”. The Act has thoughtfully included broad definitions of who can be monitored and warrants are issued by a judge in their chamber — a process which is not public record.
Given this excellent legislative cover, I think the government should set up a secret agency comprising several hundred ‘online experts’, whose only job is to sit at the Pakistan Internet Exchange and monitor all these potentially deadly internet packets one by one. Billions of these packets will be unrelated, private exchanges between citizens, but I am sure these messages will provide plenty of fringe benefits to incentivise those carrying out this honourable work.
Once all communication in Pakistan is successfully blocked or monitored, we can then turn our attention to transport networks. Roads are used by terrorists far too often and must be banned. In case anyone feels this plan is ludicrous, we need only turn to Bilawal House to see a successful implementation. Remember, no sacrifice is too great in a time of war.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2013.