Pakistan Openly Advertises for Web Censorship System

by Betsy Gomez

Free speech advocates are concerned over Pakistan’s recent advertisement for companies to install a nation-wide Internet filtering system that could potentially block access to millions of Web domains.

While relating that citizens of Pakistan generally face less Internet censorship than many people in the Middle East and Asia, an Associated Press article published by The Washington Post also discussed the overt nature of Pakistan’s move:

Few nations have so publicly revealed their plans to censor the Web as Pakistan is doing, however. Last month, the government took out newspaper and Web advertisements asking for companies or institutions to develop the national filtering and blocking system.

Pakistan has around 50 internet service providers, which are directed by Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority to block certain websites. ISPs obey the PTA because they receive their licensing from the organization. The Pakistani government claims that they are not trying to limit speech, and the head of Pakistan’s ISP organization supports the move. From The Washington Post:

Pakistan’s Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan denied Wednesday that the government was seeking to curb the media.

“We want to see the media growing. We want to strengthen it,” Awan said, emphasizing that the proposals were just that, and the government wouldn’t implement them without the media’s consent.

The government advertisements state it wants a system capable of shutting down up to 50 million Web addresses in multiple languages with a processing delay of not less than one millisecond.

The head of Pakistan’s ISP association, Wahajus Siraj, said he supported the proposed system, saying his ISP and others in the association didn’t have the time or money to take down the sites. He also said rights activists had nothing to worry about.

“They don’t fully understanding the concept of it,” said Siraj. “This is not new censorship. It’s making the manual system more efficient. I respect their point of view, but decent freedom of speech should not be blocked.”

It is not known precisely which websites are currently blocked by the PTA, but it is generally understood that pornographic and anti-Islamic websites are among those to which access is restricted. Free speech advocates are concerned that this latest move may lead to broad governmental intervention and the censorship of political discourse in the country.

For more on this story, visit The Washington Post.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on issues such as this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!