Filtering internet is nothing new to the world. More than 95 percent of the world markets (where internet is available) filter the internet to make sure that the content available over internet is in-line with their social values and local laws.
Almost every country — from USA to Singapore and from Sweden to South Africa and beyond – filter internet based on their needs and laws.
Some countries block child pornography while others block explicit content or the websites hurting the national agendas of respective countries.
Pakistan does the filtering too. And this filtration (process) is heavily flawed.
Here is the process of blocking a website:
- A website is identified for evaluation (through user reporting or by self determination)
- The Inter-Ministerial Committee evaluates the website
- If website is decided to be blocked then Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom issues a blockade directive to PTA
- PTA issues blockade directive to all ISPs
- and the website(s) or webpage(s) gets blocked
Here are the flaws:
- There are no rules available for allowable or block-able internet content. Get the Rules first, get them quickly, make them public.
- There’s no information/list available (publicly) about the blocked websites
- There’s no information available (publicly) about the reasons a website is blocked, or remedies with which the website can get unblocked
- There’s no way available to challenge IMC’s decision
- No one can report a website for blockade (yes, complaints sent to PTA are turned down)
- There’s no contact information available for Inter-Ministerial Committee, hence there’s no way of reporting a website to IMC
In other words, IMC or Inter-Ministerial Committee is a ghost department (for majority of Pakistanis) that can decide the fate of a website without hearing the viewpoint of website-owner.
Due to such flaws anyone (with powers of course) can go ahead and get a website blocked. Here is an example of how Farooq Awan, then PTA Chairman, had managed to block two websites that had bashed him.
Similarly, some videos against former MD of PTV were blocked in the country without due-evaluation by IMC. YouTube was blocked in the country on orders of Prime Minister, instead of IMC.
Even today a website, i.e. ptclworkers.com is blocked without any apparent reason and there’s no way for the website owner to get it unblocked.
Blocking child pornography won’t bring you criticism, or blocking a website that circulates unconsented pictures or videos of (local) girls will not bring you any bad press. Its the process, method and flawed approach that raises question.
All Government needs to do is to simply devise the rules for internet content as per laws of Pakistan. Publish a list of websites that are blocked and the reasons that are associated with the blockade. Plus a tribunal/committee that should accept reconsideration appeals against blocked website. This committee should review the website again and see if the its still violating the rules or not.
Do it once and for good.
P.S. Following rules and good intent make things easy, or it will take you years just to devise the rules.