Blocking the internet

Published: January 21, 2015
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The bans on any website in Pakistan are so widely flouted as to be rendered almost irrelevant in many instances, and it is curious that there has been no attempt to prosecute those who circumvent the ban STOCK IMAGE

The bans on any website in Pakistan are so widely flouted as to be rendered almost irrelevant in many instances, and it is curious that there has been no attempt to prosecute those who circumvent the ban STOCK IMAGE

If there is a single entity that has the capacity to frighten the living daylights out of virtually any government on the planet, it is the internet. Governments often seek to limit access to the World Wide Web, and have gone as far as developing their own versions of the internet that serves just their own population. There is little doubt that future wars will be fought in cyberspace. In fact, it has already turned into quite a battlefield. The internet is home to some deeply unpleasant material that incites hatred and violence. In Pakistan, the internet is becoming no less ubiquitous than in other countries, particularly as more people buy cheaper smart phones and it touches the lives of all of us, however tangentially.

Access to parts of the internet in Pakistan is already blocked, and the ban on the popular YouTube website still persists despite attempts to get it lifted. The Islamabad High Court is currently hearing a case in response to a petition filed by an NGO that seeks to protect the rights of internet users. The case hinges around the shadowy way in which the government operates regulation of the internet. Currently and according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), it blocks 50,000 pornographic websites and another 10,000 considered blasphemous — but the process by which it does so, and under what legislation, is at issue. The Inter-ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites is completely opaque in its workings. It has yet to cite a law under which any ban may be made. The judiciary appears to be uneasy about this as well, and Justice Athar Minallah questioned the head of the PTA as to this matter — and got no definitive answer. The bans on any website in Pakistan are so widely flouted as to be rendered almost irrelevant in many instances, and it is curious that there has been no attempt to prosecute those who circumvent the ban — presumably because they have not broken any law by so doing. Yes, there are websites that may need to be banned, but a lot more clarity is required as to exactly why and greater transparency about the process is needed, particularly as there are suspicions that some bans are politically motivated.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2015.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • sidjeen
    Jan 22, 2015 - 12:35PM

    “Yes, there are websites that may need to be banned” this was most disappointing line in this article.

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  • Osman
    Jan 22, 2015 - 3:03PM

    “Some websites may need to be banned”. Giving ad-hoc authority to the executive to arbitrarily deem certain content as worthy of a ban is outside the scope of authority granted to it by the constitution of the state or by any piece of legislation. It is imperative to note that there is NO criteria, no legal justification nor grounds which have been made publicly accessible or debated upon, which forms the basis of any block or ban on any content. Case in point: The video which was classified as objectionable by the IMCEW and resulted in a ban on YouTube was removed following the verdict of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States during the Garcia v Google Case. However, in Pakistan, the executive remains adamantly shortsighted and allows the ban to gather dust. According to the recently released Facebook and Twitter transparency reports, most government requests for content take down had less to do with pornography and blasphemy and more to do with political commentary and rhetoric. The latter being constitutionally protected rights. What irks me the most is that if we allow the executive to dictate, in a clandestine manner, what we can and cannot view, we are, in an implied fashion, giving the executive more authority than what is allowed. This constitutes as an abuse of power and such abuses cannot and must not be tolerated.

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