Ministry shelves plans for Great (Fire)wall of Pakistan

21 Mar 2012

Pakistan’s Ministry of Information, Technology and Telecommunication (MITT) has reversed plans to install a URL blocking system, intended to filter out ‘blasphemous and objectionable’ content due to concerns raised by various stakeholders, reports the Express Tribune. The paper cited Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Bushra Gohar, though neither the MITT nor the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) authority have released statements yet. Gohar added that the IT secretary was considering launching an inquiry against those responsible for posting the adverts that first brought the government’s internet censorship plans to light – public requests for assistance from academic and industrial players to develop a suitable, nationwide URL blocking system – without proper authorisation or consultation.

The government’s plans to censor internet access on a national level, dubbed ‘the great firewall of Pakistan’ drew flak from human rights groups and activists, both international and domestic. The chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zohra Yusuf called for the government to ‘put on hold the set-up of the filtering system, and ensure that the measure does not end up institutionalising internet censorship and surveillance.’ Yusuf added 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.’