PTA asks operators to ensure ‘immoral’ content is inaccessible to users

Updated 25 Jul 2020

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Necessary regulatory action shall be taken in case of continued non-compliance, the authority warned. — PTA/File
Necessary regulatory action shall be taken in case of continued non-compliance, the authority warned. — PTA/File

KARACHI: While the Supreme Court has taken notice of “objectionable content” being shared on YouTube and other social media platforms, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has directed internet operators to ensure that no “immoral or illegal” content is made accessible to users.

In a letter dated July 21, a copy of which is available with Dawn, the PTA said it had discovered that a high volume of immoral content was being served through Content Delivery Networks (CDNs). “You are requested to ensure that no pornographic/immoral/illegal content is being served to the users through CDNs. Compliance report in this regard is required to be submitted within 10 days of this letter,” it stated.

Necessary regulatory action shall be taken in case of continued non-compliance, the authority warned.

A CDN improves a website’s loading speed by serving the content from a location near the user. For instance, if a user is in Pakistan and tries to access a website hosted in the UK, normally the transfer must cross the geographic distance every time, which makes it very slow and costly. To bypass the slow process, a CDN stores a ‘cached’ (copied) version of the website content on a local server in Pakistan.

A majority of web traffic is served through CDNs, including traffic from major sites like Facebook, Netflix, YouTube and Amazon.

TikTok hints at removing videos, banning accounts

This also means that while the network must bring around one-third of its content from the original website, a major part of the connection is not between the user and the platform — but between the user and the CDN, which is serving two-thirds of the content.

The PTA, however, said filtering mechanisms applied by the authority to block access to illegal content were bypassed due to involvement of CDNs. “Since CDNs are either hosted in operators’ network or CDN connectivity is established by the operators, therefore it is the responsibility of the operator to ensure that no objectionable content is being served to its users,” the PTA said.

The authority pointed out it was empowered under Section 37 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 to block/remove unlawful online content. It said the content deemed unlawful included, but was not limited to, “defence of Pakistan, glory of Islam, indecent and immoral, impersonation/defamation, child pornography, modesty of natural person, dignity of natural person, contempt of court, public order, hate speech, (and) glorification of an offence”.

Banning platforms

A day earlier, the Supreme Court took notice of “objectionable content” being shared on YouTube and other social media platforms, and issued notices to the Foreign Office and the attorney general in this regard.

During the hearing, a judge remarked that the judiciary had no objection to the right to freedom of speech but people were inciting others on social media against the Pakistan Army, judiciary and government.

Hinting at a ban on YouTube, the bench observed that many countries controlled social media through local laws.

Asked if a ban on YouTube was under consideration, the PTA did not confirm or deny such a possibility.

According to Google’s latest transparency report for July-Dec 2019, 16 per cent of the total requests sent to the company for content removal pertained to defamation and 11pc items to national security. As many as 93 items were reported to Google platforms for “religious offences”.

Besides concerns of a ban on YouTube, social media users felt disappointed when the PTA announced the blocking of Bigo and issued a final warning to TikTok.

“TikTok and Bigo are engaged with PTA on the matter. Concerns with regard to immoral material have been conveyed to the platforms and they are working on a suitable mechanism to address the concerns,” the PTA told Dawn.

The authority did not specify whether the decision to block Bigo would be reversed and if TikTok would face similar action in the future, while PUBG is “still banned” in Pakistan despite the court orders.

In an email statement to Dawn, TikTok said maintaining a safe and positive in-app environment was its top priority.

“We deploy a combination of technologies, and moderation strategies to detect and review problematic content that violates our terms of use and comprehensive community guidelines, and implement appropriate penalties including removing videos and banning accounts,” it said.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2020