KARACHI: In its latest move amid the ongoing clampdown on “immoral” content online, the Pakistan Telecommunication Autho­rity (PTA) has blocked access to five more applications in Pakistan.

Over the weekend, several users complained on social media that the dating applications, mainly Tinder, were not working in the country.

In a statement issued by the telecom authority on Tuesday, the PTA confirmed it had blocked Tinder, Tagged, Skout, Grindr and SayHi. “Keeping in view the negative effects of immoral/indecent content streaming through the above applications, PTA issued notices to the management of above-men­tioned platforms,” it said.

The authority said the purpose of the move was to “remove” dating services and to moderate live streaming content in accordance with local laws of Pakistan.

“Since the platforms did not respond to the notices within the stipulated time, therefore the authority issued orders for blocking of the said applications,” the PTA said.

The regulator, however, added that it could “reconsider” the decision provided the management of the companies assured adherence to local laws with respect to moderating the indecent/immoral content through “meaningful engagement”.

Moral policing

The PTA has recently step­ped up efforts to engage tech platforms on compliance with local laws, particularly over content it deems immoral.

Last week, the authority asked video-sharing platform YouTube to immediately block vulgar, indecent, immoral, nude and hate speech content for viewing in Pakistan.

The PTA said it had taken the step keeping in view the negative effect of “indecent/immoral/nude content” available on YouTube and to prevent repugnant discord that may be caused by the presence of hate speech and sectarian material.

Earlier in July, the regulatory body had issued a final warning to Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, ordering it to filter any obscene content. It also blocked the video-streaming app, Bigo Live, though the ban was lifted a few days later once the platform agreed to moderate “immoral and indecent” content.

Internet operators have also been directed by the government to ensure that no “immoral or illegal” content is made accessible to users.

“The latest round of PTA blocking apps signifies the PTA’s insistence on companies complying to government requests for censorship and user data, and establishing communication channels with them,” Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, told Dawn.

According to Khilji, dating apps and other less known apps were a “soft target”, as the state could then exploit vague aspects of the law dealing with morality and vulgarity — which are extremely subjective terms — to justify censorship.

Digital rights groups also believe using decency as a cudgel to limit expression on the internet placed state bodies in the dubious position of morally policing content on the internet.

“The ban on dating applications, like most bans instituted by the PTA, is in equal parts legally unsound and smacks of moral policing of the internet,” said Shmyla Khan of the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) while speaking to Dawn.

“As digital rights activists have long posited, the powers granted under Section 37 of Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 are too broad and blanket bans on platforms violate basic international norms that call for proportionality in regulating free speech,” she added.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2020

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