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Unblocking of YouTube not coming soon

August 23, 2013
— File photo
— File photo

ISLAMABAD: It was being speculated that YouTube may be unblocked soon after Eidul Fitr, but it may take a while before internet users in the country will once again be able to access the popular video-sharing website, it has emerged.

The information technology ministry had prepared a proposal in this regard that would be presented to an inter-ministerial committee, Minister of State for IT Anusha Rehman Khan said at a briefing on Thursday.

The committee, which meets when a need arises, has representation from the ministries of interior, information, and religious affairs. Members from the cabinet division, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) are also included in it.

YouTube was blocked in September last year on directives from the committee after controversial film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ went viral on it.

Formed in 2006, the committee has the mandate to define anti-state, blasphemous and pornographic content on internet and issue directives to the PTA to block access to such information.

“The proposal includes both technical and response solutions,” Ms Khan told the briefing.

Under the technical solution, links or uniform resource locations (URLs) to all websites which contain the controversial film are to be blocked.

“Once YouTube is unblocked, users intending to access the controversial film will be denied access because the server will interpret and analyse the request and segregate information accordingly. The play button will either take users to a new page with the message ‘Access Denied’ or give an ‘Error’ message,” the ministry’s IT member, Mohammad Amir Malik, said.

He said that while only 10 per cent of the internet users wanted access to YouTube completely blocked, another 10pc wanted access without any changes and 80pc wanted access but with the objectionable content blocked.

“This is why the video-sharing site must be accessible.” The minister said YouTube was the best source of learning for colleges, universities and companies alike.

The official said the ministry had browsed through 100,000 links and found over 4,000 where the film was loaded. Such sites had been blocked one by one and analysing and blocking each of them had taken roughly five minutes. The job became harder because the words ‘innocence’ or ‘Muslims’ were not objectionable and spread across hundreds of thousands of links.

Ms Khan said the other part of the proposal involved the active role of the PTA to set up a complaint cell for vigilance and monitoring. “The PTA is being asked to establish a call centre, a universal landline and email facility to block links and URLs whenever they receive complaints from users about blasphemous and pornographic content on the internet.

“At the moment there is no such facility where internet users can approach the PTA to register a complaint,” she remarked.

She said that once the inter-ministerial committee was satisfied with the two solutions, it would take a decision to unblock YouTube for users in the country. She said the PTA had reported that the film was spread across eight million URLs and it lacked capacity to block more than 500,000. But actually there were about 4,000 URLs which contained the objectionable material.