Moral Policing gets an Upgrade in Pakistan!

Islamabad – 18 November 2011: We are now witnessing a new ruthless wave of moral policing in the digital communication sphere of Pakistan imposed by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). A new directive have been issued to all cellular operators in Pakistan to enforce an SMS content filtering mechanisms to ban the use of 1695 so called offensive English and Urdu words.

By developing extremely detailed lists of allegedly ‘offensive’ words and forcing telecom operators to filter them out to make our society moral and clean, PTA has not only made a mockery of itself but also of the entire country and its government.

For the SMS content filtering, PTA will be using the function of the anti-spam filters. Spamming has been defined as harmful, fraudulent, unsolicited, obnoxious and illegal as per mentioned in the directive.

It is a matter of utmost concern for Pakistani citizens, for this decision is not just oppressive & hegemonic, but unconstitutional as well. When PTA and for that matter any government authority starts regulating people’s speech, they go against the fundamental constitutional right of freedom of speech, opinion and expression. Once the authorities are allowed to filter SMS messages to ban abusive words, the restriction shall eventually not be limited to abusive words, rather, further fire the campaign to oppress the society by controlling its access to all kinds of information.

In the last post regarding the countrywide Internet porn ban, Bytes for All Pakistan had cautioned against this method of gaining control over free societies, fearing the commencement of a full-fledged practice of censoring political content that would severely destroy the spirit of freedom of speech and expression in Pakistan, which has only recently started recovering from the afflictions of anti-progressive dictatorial regimes.

PTA in its directive to cellular companies not only mentioned Article 14 and 19 of the constitution but also cited a case law for the reference, where it attempted to justify the intended SMS filtering. PTA mentioned that this filtering comes under the exceptions of Article 14 and 19, which states “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.”

Exceptions of Article 14 and 19 are widely misinterpreted and misused by the authorities. Most concerning bit is that PTA mentioned a part of Article 14 and stressed upon the “dignity of men” whereas, it totally forgotten the aspect of privacy under the same article. Spying by the authorities on common citizen’s communication is against any civil and political rights and internationally recognised civil liberties. Setting up of rigorous filtering mechanisms such as the one in question, and filtering each and every SMS for specific content is a massive violation of individual’s privacy, which is guaranteed under the Article 14.

We believe that this embarrassing and shameful directive by PTA is not all about banning abusive words; but about encouraging the act of moral policing by authorities.
Bytes for All, Pakistan, vehemently denounces and condemn this absurd, illogical, and flawed decision by PTA, which only reflects how blatantly the poverty ridden Pakistani taxpayer’s money is being wasted on such shameful acts and against its own citizens.

Bytes For All not only strongly condemns any such acts of moral policing by PTA or other government agencies but also intend to challenge the validity of such directives in the court, which are clear violations of fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan.

We also condemn this fact that while indulging themselves in this hideous task of moral policing, PTA managed to hurt the religious feelings of many Pakistani Christians by adding 'Jesus Christ' in banned word list. If such thing happened in any other country, there would be an outrage already and if it was directed (mistakenly or intentionally) towards Muslims, the amount of an outrage would be uncontrollable.

Digital content filtering itself is the biggest threat and risks violating the citizens’ state-recognized civil liberties like speech, press, privacy, religion, and association. Bytes for All strongly believe that this directive infringes upon all these civil liberties of Pakistani citizens.

Moreover, Bytes for All fears that such efforts by PTA will boost and give place to booming filtering and monitoring industry, which is already a huge threat to the privacy rights of the citizens of Pakistan. We believe that with this filtering, the state can enforce its dictates by limiting or preventing access to its communications infrastructure but on the other hand violating the fundamental right of freedom of expression and access to information.

Perhaps it is time for serious role reversal, where the citizens of Pakistan must start playing the role of monitors for all (potentially) rogue and dangerous organizations, which were originally created for mass welfare but are turning out to be a disaster for national repute among the league of nations!


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 human rights movements in the country. Its mission is “ICTs for development, democracy and social justice”.