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Much ado about nothing

Published Aug 23, 2013 05:37pm


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KARACHI: The question on whether the ban on YouTube in Pakistan would soon be lifted still beggars a clear response from the government. The ban was brought in effect in September 2012 following the circulation of Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islam film, on the website. And although the possibility that the website may again be available to internet users in Pakistan has been floating for the past several weeks, a definitive conclusion on the matter still does not seem to be around the corner.

What is however clear, following a recent press briefing by Minister of State for Information Technology (IT) Anusha Rehman, is that the fate of the website lies in the hands of an inter-ministerial committee, which would be presented with proposals for dealing with YouTube and the objectionable content hosted on it. 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.

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. However, research shows that YouTube is accessed more for educational purposes than any other. During a court hearing in August this year, Farieha Aziz, a director at Bolo Bhi, a non-profit group working for internet freedom and government transparency, said Islamic content on YouTube received a total of 1,199,368,564 views whereas Innocence of Muslims received only 0.164 per cent of the views.

Bolo Bhi also did a survey from July 26 to July 31 this year on internet usage in Pakistan — 82.8 per cent of the respondents said they used the internet for educational purposes, while 26.4 per cent said they used it to access religious content.

According to one report on the press briefing Thursday, Ms Rehman had said that so far, the IT Ministry had developed the capacity of blocking 4,000 URLs with the objectionable content with the help of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL). Whereas, another report quoted her as saying that the PTA had reported that the film was spread across eight million URLs and that it lacked capacity to block more than 500,000.

Furthermore, a report said that the ministry has given three days to the PTA to come up with a solution for the YouTube problem.

Another report quoted Ms Rehman as saying that the installation of the system required to deal with the objectionable content while still being able to access YouTube would be completed by September 15 and would cost around Rs2,700 million.

However, as of now, there is still no definitive deadline for the YouTube ban being lifted.

Bolo Bhi has been actively advocating against the ban of YouTube ever since it was implemented in September 2012. The organization has time and again highlighted the dangers associated with content filtering.

With regards to PTA’s statement about filtering HTTPS urls, the organization pointed out how such traffic cannot be blocked unless a session is interrupted and unencrypted. In order to do so, someone in the middle must break into the communication and alter it – usually at the ISP level.

This is often done by masquerading as the intended recipient.

As Bolo Bhi pointed out, this is a threat; as such measures cannot only be used for HTTPS links but also for ebanking services and other business sectors. Tampering with such systems will have a detrimental effect on the banking and industrial sectors of Pakistan.

When talking with this scribe another director at Bolo Bhi, Sana Saleem, expressed surprise at the Ministry’s claim of having successfully tested such a filtering system with PTCL’s assistance, when previously PTA had given in writing that no such system exists that can filter through HTTPS links.

Last year, a tender proposing such a filtering system had been given; which was vehemently opposed by Bushra Gohar, Senior VP of Awami National Party (ANP).

After the dangers of the system had been pointed out by PTA, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had pushed back the proposal, saying it threatened the security of the banking sector.

Sana Saleem, Director at Bolo Bhi, said in an interview with this reporter regarding the YouTube ban, “access filtered is access denied. The YouTube ban is in direct violation of our constitutional rights”.

No matter how frantic the activities of the IT ministry, PTA and other bodies regarding this particular ban, it seems that the only conclusion evident so far is that their motto seems to be look busy, do nothing.

Comments (19) Closed

Sadia Aug 23, 2013 08:16pm

Pakistani tax payer money should be spent on something productive . If people hold the holy prophet in respect they should stay away from the URL.

Why this big hoopla on something that will neither reverse the insult or lead to any apologies

Anon Aug 23, 2013 11:08pm

Somebody has to ask the question as to why Youtube didnt simpley comply with the request to block the Innocence of Muslims in Pakistan.

Why is it that companies like Google are so staunch on their principles when it comes to countries like Pakistan, but have no qualms working hand in glove with the NSA?

Amir Aug 24, 2013 02:25am

Is You Tube banned in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt or other Islamic countries for the said Anti-Islamic film?

Adil Aug 24, 2013 06:59pm

@Sadia: right! like me and many others who in regard of Holy Prophet PBUH never even thought of visiting those URLs in respect of Prophet PBUH, although we open YouTube daily by proxy or other means.

sagacious Aug 24, 2013 08:07pm

Don't lift the ban. After all, what is the use of watching it?

Nauman Aug 24, 2013 09:49pm

2700 million! Yet another small cheque for this society's unimpeded narcism and false sense of superiority..

Roman Ahsan Aug 24, 2013 10:37pm

There are both good and bad aspects associated with the use of Internet or youtube itself. Youtube videos are excellent for educational purposes but I am worried about the 'activists' uploading material to create the wrong kind of hype in the society. I was a supporter of the voice of activists on such platforms before but sometimes think it is better for us to do without it and just concentrate on how we can be productive for our country and beneficial to people around us!

Ahmer Aug 24, 2013 11:00pm

youtube had agreed in January to install filters to weed out offensive content. What is the latest on that? Now to lift the ban without any concessions from it, will encourage other websites too to adopt the same stance.

Ahmad Malik Aug 25, 2013 01:10am

I don't know why we all get so upset about some idiot making a video like this, its not like the prophet wasn't ridiculed in his own time... the prophet never raised a hand against people like those, instead he prayed to god for their salvation... who are we to judge people and take matters into our own hands, let everyone do as they want and let god decide their fate

Atif Khan Aug 25, 2013 03:39am

2,700 million rs on a system to block objectionable content while still able to access youtube, what is this, As far as my IT experience tells me you just need that video link in a block list, why spending so much money on as they call "A SYSTEM", as if some high tech ultra super system is being placed at PTA, all they know how to grab a situation , do a tender and make money, I know more than 90% of people still using you tube using proxy sites as i am doing, I beg you not to waste money on that system of your and keep it blocked, hum kam chala lein gein but spend that money somewhere useful, Have you (at PTA) imagine no of schools you ca establish?? I wouldn't mind using word " incompetency " for you all decision makers at PTA

malik Aug 25, 2013 07:56am

Seems like our religion is always in danger. That is why we need to block sites and observe Khatme nubawat day?

Bipul Aug 25, 2013 09:07am

A country living in stone age doesn't even need internet. Pakistanies have uploaded large number of offensive material on India on internet, nothing is banned in India.

Ahmed Aug 25, 2013 09:24am

You Tube is just a form of communication. Banning You Tube is as stupid as banning the pen, they keyboard, the internet or the telephone

Usman Aug 25, 2013 10:53am

Relax every one just chilax and keep facing the same music over and over again cuz nothing has changed in accordance to the will of Paki people and it never will so stop whining and just go to sleep cuz thats what we are good at (Great country Pathetic nations unity)

Ebrish Aug 25, 2013 12:57pm

Banned on any social media is not a solution of stopping anti Islam material, to stop it all one and only solution is "unity among the Muslim ummah" but we Muslim, specially Pakistani, instead of getting help from the IT we have keen found of banned on source of knowledge, then opened it after some dealing with the social media operators.. when will our politician sincere with our nation and religion.???

Abbas Aug 25, 2013 01:28pm

Youtube is owned by Google. Google is an American company. If people were truly offended by this why weren't all American products banned, I bet the people sreaming BLASPHEMY still quenched their thirst with a cold glass of Coke. If you dont like it dont watch it.

Random Passerby Aug 25, 2013 05:31pm

@Anon: There is no Pakistan specific version of You Tube. When you enter in your browser you are taken to the international version of You Tube. So, Google cannot block access to that video for Pakistani viewers, without blocking it for everyone else in the world, which is against their policies. This video is inaccessible in countries like Saudi Arabia which have a country specific version of You Tube.

The reason why there is no Pakistan specific version of You Tube is because of the small size of Pakistani market specially in terms of ad revenue, and secondly because there are no laws in Pakistan that provide legal protection to a company like Google for hosting such content. You have to remember that You Tube hosts user generated content and the sheer volume of the content uploaded on You Tube makes it impractical for Google to ensure that uploaded content does not violate the different laws of the 200 odd countries of the world.

schaz Aug 26, 2013 10:11am

youtube is still accessible through proxies , so it is not blocked as assumed by our gullible government everybody is using it so what is the point of blocking it anyway ? as for that content that started this whole charade still on youtube. i'm not a law expert but in my own opinion an international law should be drafted against anti religious activities on internet should be built to cater all of these incidents like the discussed one.

Cosmic Lion Aug 26, 2013 02:30pm

Faith is so fragile that it can be broken by a youtube video.....