Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


VPN, Pakistan and 'dacoits' in the marketplace of ideas

September 07, 2011

The ban on VPN is likely be used to selectively target activists that are exploring topics which the state has attempted to silence under its aura of secrecy and ‘necessity’.

It is often argued that the freedom of speech should be protected from government intrusion because it is an inalienable right for people to express their opinions.

While this may be true, the courts in America assigned another benefit of free speech in that it creates a vibrant and diverse “marketplace of ideas.”  If this marketplace is allowed to remain free from government control, people will have an equal right to speak and follow a speaker who best embodies their beliefs. This is essential for a state to prosper by consistently fostering innovative ideas both in business and governance. In Pakistan, many leaders have acted as dacoits, raiding the marketplace of ideas and thereby limiting the people's ability to make free and informed decisions about what ideology they adhere to.

Last week, the Government of Pakistan informed all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that they must discontinue all virtual private network (VPN) services within the nation. These services allow for an individual to surf the internet and share information through a private link, circumventing government bans on websites and prohibiting the state from monitoring an individual’s internet activity. The motivation for the law was to curb the ability of extremists to access blocked websites and share information with one another. However, due to the behavior pattern of Pakistan military to sponsor some militants, while subjecting others to human rights violations; it is likely that the regulation will not have its intended effect.

Not only will this regulation do little to limit the growth of terrorism, it is a blanket provision that will harm the “marketplace of ideas” in business. Several tech news sites have reported their displeasure with the regulation because it bans all use of private connectivity. This threatens the business community, which relies on private link services to maintain confidential exchanges within their company and protect their company’s work product. By curbing the ability of businesses to privately share information, the State is limiting the public’s access to innovative products that could otherwise be created by businesses that enjoy a free-flow of information.

Further, this ban will likely be used to selectively target activists that are exploring topics which the state has attempted to silence under its aura of secrecy and ‘necessity’ by the deep state. To explain why the government would wish to limit the freedom of speech of activists, one can use the simple analogy of a con-artist. As I was recently informed, a con-artist is a person who “tells Person 1 something, Person 2 something else, and spends his life making sure Person 1 and Person 2 don’t talk.”

This is a fitting analogy for the core state, who say one thing to Pakistan’s public, say something contradictory to their US or Saudi partners, and spends its time sponsoring ordinances so that the people don’t discover their dark secrets.  One prime example is that though the military has sponsored much of the public outcry against drone attacks, Wikileaks reveals that General Kayani and high level military officials had given permission to the US for these operations.

Political discourse and a nuanced understanding of world events amongst the public can only be attained by maintaining an open marketplace of ideas. Thus, when the Pakistani public stands in favor of the Army, it isn’t always an expression of their inherent support for the organisation and the work it does. Rather, their support is based partly on the lack of facts or ideas that would allow them to critically evaluate their deep state. From the Kerry Lugar bill backlash orchestrated by the Army, to the secret relationship with the US, the deep state has continually raided the marketplace of ideas. The result has been an increasingly paranoid public who believes all its misfortunes can be attributed to powers far away, rather than looking within.

Such a lack of public introspection is inherently a part of the process by which leaders can maintain self-defeating policies without public reprisal. Justice Oliver Wendle Holmes once explained that “the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas.” As evidenced by the private internet ban in Pakistan and the history of misinformation by the Army, there isn’t a free trade of ideas allowed for the nation’s public. Thus, the people cannot fully come to a determination as to what is their ‘ultimate good desired,’ until the marketplace of ideas is allowed to foster and grow unfettered from intrusion by the deep state.  This cannot happen if the ‘dacoits’ of Pakistan’s ruling elite continue to raid the marketplace of ideas in order to maintain their power or secrecy.

The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.