Islamabad, Friday, February 24, 2012: The Government of Pakistan has repeatedly exhibited the obsession to lock up the Pakistani cyberspace at every given chance. The reasons for doing so are myriad and diverse, but mostly, they revolve around the same unjustifiable excuses like upholding national security, war on terror and/or religious morality. In order to do these, the government continuously impose and compromise citizen’s fundamental rights including freedom of expression, opinion and access to information hampering all socio-economic activities connected with the Internet. In an under-developed country like Pakistan this becomes the sheer wastage of resources and tax payers’ hard earned money. Unfortunately, there are no legal protections available for citizens or any mechanisms to regulate such actions by the Government & civil society’s engagement for transparency and accountability.
In a recent development, on 23 February 2012, the National ICT R&D Fund has placed an advertisement in the press, calling relevant national and international service providers, companies to submit proposals “for the development, deployment and operation of a national level URL Filtering and Blocking System”.
Little words are required to describe the magnitude of this disastrous move if it gets implemented. Quoting one requirement from the National ICT R&D Fund website, “Each box should be able to handle a block list of up to 50 million URLs (concurrent unidirectional filtering capacity) with processing delay of not more than 1 milliseconds” shows that what kind of capacity Government is planning to acquire for filtering the Internet content in Pakistan. Most interestingly, this filtering will be governed by one very vague terminology that is ‘undesirable content’.
This move by the government proves our grave concerns regarding Internet Freedom & online privacy issues in Pakistan. Bytes for All is already very concerned about the fact that there will be major crackdown on the Internet towards general elections in 2013 by introducing more and more surveillance mechanisms and monitoring of citizens digital communications. These recent developments are probably the start of things and we wonder what to expect in the near future.
The 2013 elections are geared to be historic, given that they are being organized after a democratically elected civilian government’s successful completion of their 5 year tenure. Unfortunately, the proposed system has the potential to play havoc with citizen’s participation, openness of elections and transparency by paralysing the nerve centre of democratic expression; the Internet.
Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A), strongly condemns this move of the Government and holds it akin to infringing citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights. For a democratically elected civilian government, implementing such a system is highly dictatorial in nature and will directly affect the freedoms and socio-economic well-being of the citizens, reflecting the tyrannical actions of repeated oppression by past military governments.
On 29 February 2012, the United Nation’s Human Rights Council is organizing the proceedings of an expert panel in Geneva to discuss freedom of expression on the Internet. Drawing upon the recommendations from the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, the panel will focus on ways to promote and protect freedom of expression on the Internet, in accordance with international human rights laws.
Bytes for All, urgently calls upon the UN Expert Panel on Human Rights on the Internet to take note of this alarming development in Pakistan, which can be disastrous and prove to set a negative precedence to other repressive regimes in the world. It is evident that Pakistan’s Government is not ready to acknowledge the critical importance of universal access to the Internet in this modern world and instead of using it as a tool to support economic and social progress, using it to control its citizens and make a mockery out of freedom of expression and opinion in Pakistan.
Furthermore, B4A calls for service providers and international companies to refrain from bidding for this proposed system and show their support for freedom of expression, speech and opinion in Pakistan. B4A is also building an alliance with national and international human rights organisations to join hands and put an effort to influence the Government of Pakistan to let the backbone of the international digital communications and expression free from all oppression.
A society without fundamental rights particularly freedom of expression, speech, opinion and choice cannot call itself a democratic society.
Let’s join hands to stop the coldblooded murder of the Internet in Pakistan!
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”. www.bytesforall.pk
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Shahzad Ahmad Cell. +92 333 5236060