Stakeholders show concern over bid to censor Internet
STAFF REPORT LHR: The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have expressed deep concern over an attempt by the Ministry of Information Technology to further restrict freedom of expression, creativity and peaceful thought on the Internet by projecting an extensive filtering system that will allow authorities to block up to 50 million “undesirable” URLs at the national level.
The National ICT RandD Fund of the IT Ministry released in February a call inviting academia/research institutions, companies, organizations to submit a proposal for the constitution of a filtering system. The call claims that Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered, so that ISPs and backbone providers in the country need a high-performance system to block millions of URLs containing “undesirable” content.
“Censorship is already very tight in Pakistan; 13,000 websites considered guilty of publishing adult and blasphemous content have already been blocked. Over the last summer, operators had received the order to submit lists of Internet users trying to escape censorship, which corresponds to a system of surveillance,” said Zohra Yusuf, HRCP Chairperson.
Experts say that the decision on what content should be blocked must not be left to the whims of bureaucrats. An independent judicial body should determine the necessity and justification for blocking a particular website to prevent arbitrary restrictions.