A cell of the ministry released a call in February, inviting academia/research institutions, companies and organisations to submit by March 16 a proposal to set up a cyber filter. – Reuters Photo

LAHORE, March 13: The International Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have expressed concern at an attempt by the ministry of information technology to restrict the freedom of expression on the Internet by projecting an extensive filtering system that is feared to allow the authorities to block up to 50 million "undesirable" URLs in Pakistan, says a press release.

A cell of the ministry released a call in February, inviting academia/research institutions, companies and organisations to submit by March 16 a proposal to set up a cyber filter.

The call claims that access to the Internet in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered, therefore, Internet service providers and backbone providers in the country need a high performance system to block millions of URLs containing "undesirable" content as notified by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

"Censorship is already very tight in Pakistan, as 13,000 websites considered guilty of publishing adult and blasphemous content have already been blocked.

On Nov 14, 2011, authorities requested cell phone operators to censor the content of SMSes and ban 1,600 words and expressions. Over the last summer, operators received the order to submit lists of Internet users trying to escape censorship, which corresponds to a system of surveillance," HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf said in the press release.

"FIDH and HRCP request the government of Pakistan to put on hold the filtering system and ensure that the measure does not end up institutionalising the Internet censorship and surveillance, and is consistent with Pakistan's obligation to protect the freedom of expression," says the press release.

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