Pakistan's Internet Firewall: "O Pakistan, We Stand on Guard for Thee"

Islamabad, June 20, 2013: A new research report by Citizen Lab and Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan reveals that Pakistani authorities have developed an Internet Firewall using technology procured from Canadian service provider, Netsweeper
 
Last year, Pakistan's IT Ministry solicited proposals for its new draconian project focusing on mass URL filtration in Pakistani cyberspace. This was a shocking news for the civil society and human rights groups, as such a system could be predatory for Internet Rights and Freedom of Expression in the country. 
 
Bytes for All, Pakistan along with larger human rights movement in the country and elsewhere in the world launched strong condemnation and opposition in response to this step by the government and played an important role in shelving of this plan – though it was only temporarily.
 
Worryingly, this year, the authorities have reverted back to their destructive plans to push the country's digital rights into the dark corridors of oppression by silently enforcing sophisticated technologies of Internet filtering and surveillance. 
 
In an eye-opening research report, "O Pakistan, We Stand on Guard for Thee: An Analysis of Canada-based Netsweeper’s role in Pakistan’s Censorship Regime," published by Citizen Lab, University of Toronto in collaboration with Bytes for All, Pakistan, several important findings about Netsweeper's role in oppressing the Pakistani cyberspace further have come to light.
 
Quoting the report, "Netsweeper technology is being implemented in Pakistan on PTCL for purposes of political and social filtering, including websites of secessionist movements, sensitive religious topics, and independent media."
 
This report is an output of Citizen Lab's development of reproducible methodologies that identify filtering technology and whether they are used for censorship. The resulting analysis in this research has been generated based on data collection through multiple tools, as well as by in-country testing conducted by B4A by running measurement software developed to document cases of Internet filtering in different geographic locations throughout the country. 
 
This is a grim revelation and reflects upon the influences of corporate ideologies of what's acceptable and what's not on the decision making of the Pakistani authorities. It is unfortunate that despite the reestablishment of peoples' democracy within the country, certain elements continue to enforce mass online censorship, disabling citizens from learning to make responsible decisions themselves. It appears that these elements are committed to sabotage citizens’ freedom of expression, assembly, association and pro-people, open, democratic processes for a sustained democracy that civil society and citizens of Pakistan have been working for tirelessly over the years.
 
Bytes for All maintains it stance that Censorship is not a solution, it is a problem. For a country like Pakistan that prides itself to be a democratic society, it will be shameful to put in place such technologies and mechanisms to silence citizens expression and basic freedoms. 
 
The silence from the authorities is deafening in establishing an active discourse with all stakeholders so that a way forward to help Pakistan's cyberspace move into the 21st century with inclusion of all fundamental human rights could be developed. 
 
Bytes for All will submit this new research report to the Lahore High Court, where proceedings of public interest litigation on freedom of expression is underway. In addition, B4A is also sending this information to all relevant UN Special Mandate holders to inform them of these worrying developments in the country. 
 
 
 
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About Bytes for All, Pakistan
 
Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization and a network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners. It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening social justice movements in the country. Its mission is “ICTs for development, democracy and social justice”. www.bytesforall.pk
 
For more information (and please note the change in the office address):
 
Bytes for All, Pakistan
House 273, Street 17, Sector F- 10/2, Islamabad, Pakistan
 
Cell. +92 51 2110494-95