PTA plans to push Pakistan to 1984

Published: June 26, 2010
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'Who will watch the watcher?'

A leaked confidential draft of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) allegedly delivered to the Lahore High Court (LHC) has suggested the implementation of a new draconian system which would greatly curtail internet freedom in the country, not unlike Big Brother from George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

Needless to say, the document obtained by APCmember Bytes for All has begun to make rounds online, leaving many (including this writer) extremely worried about the possibilities of such a system being actualised.

Pertinent points from the PTA draft suggestions follow:

1. The draft states that blasphemous content found online has created dismay and discomfort among the government and people of Pakistan. It says that although websites had been blocked, blasphemous material had been replicated all over the internet and was easily accessible through a number of means, and that it has become imperative to monitor and control content in Pakistan.

2. A policy guideline has been developed in light of the recent events in order to safe guard national security, maintain communal harmony and respect the LHC decision.

Guidelines

A complaint cell is to be formed to monitor and block objectionable material.

Websites may be blocked at the URL or IP level after investigation by Inter-Ministerial Committee for the evaluation of Websites when a complaint is received.

The committee will then evaluate the reported material for suitability of being displayed in Pakistan.

Websites containing the following material will be blocked on orders of the Federal Government:

– Information with objectionable content. (undefined)

–  Websites undermining Islam or ridiculing, disparaging or attacking any religion, ethnic group, region or any group’s reverend practices.

–  Bringing contempt to the country or its people so as to undermine integrity and solidarity of the state.

– Violates any provision of the constitution of Pakistan or law of the land.

– Promotes or supports sedition, terrorism, anarchy or violence in the country.

– Brings contempt of the Defense Forces, Police, Air Force or any other institution of the Government of Pakistan or to divulge any secret information relating to Defense and other services.

– Contains propaganda in favour of any foreign state having bearing on any point of disputes or against any friendly foreign state

– Hurts national sentiment.

In the case of a complaint being received the website will be blocked by the PTA within 24 hours of the approval of the evaluation committee.

In case of any criminal proceeding, the committee will forward the cases to FIA to take action under the relevant law.

The Policy is issued with approval of competent authority and for implementation with immediate effect.

Is this it?

If this draft is indeed part of the PTA’s upcoming plan to protect its citizens from blasphemous material, it is a poor one, an astonishing one, a sad one. If the PTA has even half the resources necessary to begin implementation of the above guidelines, it would mean a blanket ban on millions of websites.

There are other disturbing questions to be asked:

What is the definition of ‘objectionable content’? Will it be a stand alone, catch-all guideline?

What is the definition of ‘brings contempt to the country’? Or for that matter, ‘hurts national sentiment’?

Would this post count as an attempt to ‘divulge any secret information relating to Defense and other services’?

There is little I feel that can be added to the debate, as we have already witnessed a huge outpouring of sentiment by the people of Pakistan in online forums including The Express Tribune’s own comments section. It is suffice to say that the need of the hour now is less words, more action and more interaction between the authorities and pillar’s of state that govern the people, and the people themselves.

And if the voice against such guidelines is in the minority, who will protect the rights of the minorities?

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth:  if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.  – John Stuart Mill

Jahanzaib Haque

Jahanzaib Haque

News buff and Web Editor, The Express Tribune. Jahanzaib tweets @Jhaque_ twitter.com/jhaque_

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.