Govt bid to filter web still facing resistance
STAFF REPORT IBD: A controversy still persists over the governments initiative to install a mechanism, through open biddings, to filter the contents available on Internet, as some campaigners urging companies not to bid for a $10 million contract while on the other hand pressure from the civil society is regularly mounting on the authorities for having this mechanism to filter objectionable contents.
According to reports, these campaigners have met success to some extent as a number of companies remained hesitant to participate in the biddings, the last date for which had lapsed last week.
It is to be mentioned here that in February last, the PTA had published a very public tender ($10 million) for the development, deployment and operation of a national-level URL filtering and booking system.
This system is not a new one as currently many countries have deployed web filtering and blocking systems at the Internet backbones within their countries. However, Pakistani ISPs and backbone providers have expressed their inability to block millions of undesirable websites using current manual blocking systems. The system would have a central database of undesirable URLs, they opine.
The PTA had blocked thousands of sites in 2007 – not just those containing pornographic material or contents offensive to Islam, but numerous vital websites and services – in response to a Supreme Court ruling that had ordered the blocking of blasphemous websites. In May of 2010, the PTA blocked Facebook in response to a controversy over a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him).
Advocacy groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have backed the Bolo Bhi Campaign. Sometimes there are lines that companies cannot cross without becoming complicit in human rights violations, they argue.
The opponents of this proposed censorship say they are doubly appalled because they associated this kind of heavy-handed approach more with the previous regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
“The authorities here are big fans of China and how it filters the Internet,” said Sana Saleem, Chief Executive of Bolo Bhi, a group that campaigns against restrictions on the Internet.
“What makes this kind of censorship so insidious is that they always use national security, pornography or blasphemy as an explanation for blocking other kinds of speech,” Saleem said, adding that her site had been blocked for several months in 2010 when it made reference to a ban on Facebook.
A source said that the review process is likely to bring the consensus for URL filtering system to make sure that all stakeholders are on the same page. He hinted that the government is aware of the concerns raised by stakeholders, especially about making this filtration lot more transparent.
The source ruled out any possibility of not implementing URL fileting system, however, formation of regulation and a proper policy making is in the pipeline before the URL filtering system is implemented.
An official of the ICT RandD Fund, on condition of anonymity, revealed that RFP might not be floated again. He said that tools are going to remain the same, however, usage will depend on what government will decide in coming days.
Internet activists earlier had opposed the URL filtering system, saying it could pose a serious threat to free accessibility of information on internet.
They are of the view that government could block websites based on political reasons in the name of obscene material.