Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has blocked access to 1660 links/sites containing blasphemous contents on social media so far.
This was revealed by PTA officials while briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication. The committee met with Cap (R) Muhammad Safdar in the chair here on Tuesday.
The officials revealed that 3900 complaints have so far been received while after through examination/ investigation action was taken on 1660 website in total.
Islamabad High Court had directed PTA for evolving a mechanism to eliminate blasphemous material on social media and ensure that scientific mechanism is evolved to bring awareness about blasphemy and pornography.
PTA had taken several steps even before the matter was taken up by the honorable courts. Facebook had been requested to block the reported content and the relevant accounts. Facebook on several occasions took out the material. However, due to the nature of social media, new accounts were created with similar content.
These accounts were reported to Facebook and they did take out some action but not to the satisfaction of PTA. Keeping this in mind, Chairman PTA met Facebook senior officials in Barcelona (Spain) during the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress and highlighted this matter in the strongest possible terms and sought their cooperation.
Resultantly, Facebook started cooperating fully by removing and blocking reported content for Pakistan. There were 02 Facebook accounts mentioned by Islamabad High Court with the name “Behnsa” and “Machar” which were searched by PTA and additionally 08 other pages were also identified with similar names containing blasphemous content. The same were reported to Facebook and were blocked for Pakistani viewership. Besides that, PTA has also searched, identified and blocked 12,968 websites containing blasphemous content till April, 2017.
In addition to the above PTA has developed an electronic portal to facilitate stakeholders to lodge complaints relating to any objectionable web content. An email address is also advertised in the media facilitating general public to inform PTA about any blasphemous content. Email address is [email protected] In this regard around more than 3900 complaints have been received so far which were disposed of accordingly.
A research cell comprising of 25 IT personnel has been developed by PTA who proactively search blasphemous content and take action as per SOP.
Blasphemous material being uploaded on internet is in different forms i.e. literature, pictures, audio, video etc. Therefore identification of blasphemous material without human intervention is not possible. As already mentioned above PTA has deployed a team of 25 personnel for the purpose and so far PTA has blocked around 12,968 such links. Given the fact that a huge amount of content is being produced every minute and is uploaded on the internet, it is almost impossible to restrict and block any one or more of the content categories completely.
The Interior Minister called a meeting on 09-03-2017 and 15-03-2017 where Chairman and Member PTA respectively explained the whole issue. Chairman was directed by the Interior Minister to contact the senior management of Facebook and to invite them to visit Pakistan. The same was complied with and as a result Facebook has shown willingness to come to Pakistan and have assured cooperation. Since 26th Feb 2017, 137 blasphemous links have been blocked by Facebook administration for viewership in Pakistan.
PTA and MoIT have been in touch with social media platforms. These issues are being highlighted to them. Technical solutions are also being explored.
A meeting of Government Officials with Facebook representatives has been convened on 7th April 2017 through video link in-order to finalize the modalities and agenda for their visit to Pakistan.
During the meeting Facebook has been informed they should consider declaring blasphemous material against their global policies and inform users not to post such material on its platform. Facebook Inc was also asked to help Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) in Pakistan by providing them with the requisite data that they asked for. Facebook reiterated their commitment towards removal/blocking of the blasphemous and objectionable content and assured that they will improve the response time. They informed the participants of the meeting that they will continue to respect the local laws.
Regarding the help extended to LEAs, they mentioned that they received around 1000 requests in 2016 from Pakistan and about 70% of them have been complied with and that they will continue to support such requests. Visit of Facebook’s senior management to Pakistan is somewhere in May 2017.
Broadcasting of a short message to all Cellular Mobile Subscribers through their respective networks for awareness about uploading/spreading of blasphemous material on internet and its repercussions under the law is under process.