Bannistan, Censorship, NetFreedom, Netizens, Pakistan, Privacy, Surveillance
I was ceased to be amazed by the censorship policies of our telecom authority ie PTA. Three very well respected technology websites Gizmodo.com, Lifehacker.com and TheVerge.com were blocked by our ISP’s on the instructions of PTA. I was flabbergasted and overawed by the audacious and stupid ban put in place on these very good sources of information for technology related news and happenings. These websites as far I have known have never housed any disconcerting content that would give rise to it being deemed ‘harmful or inappropriate’. If the authorities feel that these websites mentioned above are responsible for hosting “objectionable” content; a reasonable explanation should suffice detailing every aspect of why these websites were blocked in the first place; and what kind of content did they deem was objectionable which led to the blockage or ban on these websites.
Everything is under the radar of the state; massive surveillance and privacy violations are being conducted on a daily basis and rights to freedom of speech being curtailed on the internet. The blocking of websites is the first of many missteps that the state undertakes to block the right to access as basic a thing as information on the internet. The absence of any clear guidelines and policies and a sudden blocking of a website is not only erroneous but also practically stupid so to speak. The websites that are hosting transparent and harmless content in nature and are in no way offensive or harmful to the States very existence; why the hell is it blocked? Is there a legitimate reason to block these websites without any prior notification? Is there any mechanism under existence to ban or block these websites? Do any kind of legislations exist in the power of the state to empower the telecom authority to block any website at their whim without any practical reasoning? Are notifications issued to the ISP’s or an official press release made by the concerned stakeholders that a certain website or websites have been blocked due to this and this reason?
In these circumstances; a pronounced absence of laws and guidelines for blocking websites is just mind boggling. One fine morning, we get up and see a website we view daily is blocked! Then the very next day it is ‘miraculously’ unblocked!! The formulation of polices and guidelines is an utmost necessity in this digital day and age; laws need to be enacted by Parliament and passed through so a proper mechanism is in place to facilitate the closure or blockage of these websites. On a personal level; I am not in favour of disbanding or blocking any websites and denying the netizens of the right to access information in any given way. Blockage ensues frustration at a level even for genuine purposes; like people doing research who have to view Youtube to view a specific video that is interlinked to their work and also for example upcoming musicians; startups etc who have to rely on free mediums to disseminate information about their specific ventures. Due to these blockages; various pedigrees of business and upcoming artists and talents that need the medium to showcase their talents are being curtailed; unnecessarily. The underlying frustration of those ‘genuine’ users is to circumvent these blockades and resort to using Virtual Private Networks or proxies to access these ‘banned’ websites.
Absurd bans like these make no sense at all and have no valid reasoning and explanation. If for some apparent reason; the websites mentioned above are guilty of hosting content that the State finds ‘objectionable’ to its liking; it can take the step of simply blocking that particular URL and not blocking the whole DAMN WEBSITE! Emancipation of information is being curtailed by the State at every level and it is their prerogative to deprive the netizens of their basic rights to access it. Blocking and massive filtration of the internet will not stop the seeds of discontentment from sprouting up. Proactive policies need to be formulated in regards to the Internet in Pakistan; guidelines need to be developed and a framework promulgated to ‘Censor’ content if NEEDED! By blocking websites which emanate knowledge and add value in every respect of the word; it will only harm us in the longer run.
The internet is also a great resource of learning; besides the ‘Objectionable’ content it also houses according to the said morals and virtues of our State. If the State encourages instead of discouraging the people to view the internet; it can help the populace to be empowered in every given way whether it is in the field of education; the economy and it will only add value and make them that much aware of the happenings in the world. The internet can galvanize a revolution of knowledge and learning in Pakistan; and with a massive chunk of the 180 million population under the age of 25, we have to encourage the use of the internet proactively. Bannistan is not the solution to our problems; it only aggravates them!