On an order dated March 13, 2014, the divisional bench hearing the ‘YouTube case’ issued directions Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT) to meet with four court-appointed technical experts from the private sector, the technical team of PTA and the Ministry to “evolve a joint strategy” to remove objectionable content from YouTube.

As per the court’s directions, the meeting was to include an officer of the Attorney General’s office and a representative of the petitioner. The meeting was to be held before the next date of hearing (i.e. May 13, 2014) and a report on the outcome was to be presented on the said date.

As per the directions of the court, the meeting was held on April 30 and the report presented to court on May 13.

Find below the report by the Ministry and an independent version by the technical experts:

MOIT’s report

Technical Experts’ report

The emerging consensus was towards the placement of interstitials  before any offending content given that there is no way to absolutely block content on the Internet 100% – which has been confirmed by both PTA through its representatives in court and its Chairman before the Senate and National Assembly, and by various technical experts, before court.

An order for the hearing on May 13 is awaited, however given there is a 2012 judgment by the Supreme Court in this matter, a final outcome is not to be expected just yet.

See our submission to court on May 13, 2014 here

See Related Posts

Timelines: YouTube Ban 2012-2014  & YouTube Case Updates by Bolo Bhi

1. Summary of hearings April 12 and 26

2. Submissions to court made by Bolo Bhi up to July 4, 2013 

3. Submission by amicus Khurram Zafar on home-based blocking vs state
blocking

4. Google’s letter to court

5. PTA’s submission to court – July 25:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

6. Joint submission by Farieha Aziz and Khurram Zafar

7. Bolo Bhi’s submission to court on educational value of content available on YouTube (Part 1) – August 2, 2013:

Part 1

Part 2: Letters by 4 individuals – August 2, 2013:

Toffee TV

Salman Ansari

Imtiaz Noor

Muhammad Ismail

Interim order by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah

Date: May 13, 2014

Writ Petition 958­2013: BytesforAll vs Federation

Lahore High Court

Submitted to:

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah & Justice Atir Mahmood

Honourable Sirs,

Below is a summary of the discourse that has taken place in court over the last year, on lifting the ban on YouTube, and input that has been gathered from stakeholders outside it.

In this regard, two notable events must be mentioned:

1)     The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights passed a unanimous resolution on April 29, 2014, to lift the ban on YouTube (Annex A)

2)     The National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to lift the ban on YouTube on May 6, 2014 (Annex B)

In the following pages, is a summary of discussions including proposed solutions.

Thank you.

Farieha Aziz

Director, Bolo Bhi

 

Summary of hearings and submissions before court:

Policy

-       When Google was approached to remove the offending video, Innocence of Muslims, by Pakistan, the following was Google’s response on why they didn’t block it (as per their letter to Lahore High Court in the YouTube case):

1)     Unless a video violates community guidelines or is flagged by a number of users, nothing is removed from .com

2)     Access to the offending video was restricted in countries where YouTube offers a localized service i.e. country-level domain in compliance with local laws

-       Google has no legal presence in Pakistan and YouTube does not offer a localized service i.e. offers a country-level domain (i.e. youtube.com.pk)

-       In the letter to court, Google stated the decision to localize was based on commercial interests and the legal environment of a country, among others, and for Pakistan, there were no immediate plans to localize

-       What was offered to Pakistan like Bangladesh and Afghanistan where there is no local presence, were interstitials – warning screens before the offending video

What other countries did in response to the objectionable video

-       Upon the request of the following countries, the video was restricted by Google/YouTube in: Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Turkey where there exist localized versions of YouTube or the company is registered

-       Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – where Google is not registered nor is there a localized version of YouTube – banned YouTube since the video was not restricted

-       All three countries were offered interstitials – warning screens before the offending video marking it as objectionable content

-       While Bangladesh and Afghanistan accepted interstitials and proceeded to lift the ban on YouTube in 2013, Pakistan chose to keep the ban in place

-       Pakistan is the only country – including the only Muslim country – where YouTube is still banned in reaction to the video

SOLUTION: Interstitial screens

Technology

-  According to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, the entire website had to be blocked as particular links to the offending video could not be blocked due to technological capability

-  PTA’s response to court on the technological capability was as follows:

1)  YouTube’s traffic is served through HTTPS, which means all sessions are secure and encrypted

2)  While HTTP (unencrypted) links have been blocked, there is no way to block HTTPS traffic

3)  Attempting to tamper with HTTPS traffic (which would not be limited to just YouTube but 
Internet traffic as a whole), would be detrimental to commerce and industry in the country, said a 
PTA official in court

-  Despite this, the government has been in pursuit of filters

-  Filters for HTTPS traffic not only violate privacy but are a security breach, tampering with legitimate 
certificates of websites, leading to the weakening of secure communication online which would have an adverse impact on cyber security, exposing passwords and online transactions such as credit card and banking information

-  PTA Chairman has stated before the Senate that there exists no technology in the world that can block content on the Internet 100% (Annex C)

- This is clear through the use of proxies by citizens to circumvent the ban on YouTube; however, not only are proxies slow but they infect users’ computers with viruses and malwares and not a solution

-       Alternately, Internet Service providers can offer Value Added Services that Internet users can opt for if they want certain material blocked for consumption in their homes or, alternately, employ freely available softwares on their machines that they can manage themselves (Annex D)

SOLUTION: Self-regulation with the help of value-added services by ISPs or free software tools, along with parental control for children and viewer discretion for adults

- – - – -   – - – - –   – - – - -   – - – - -

    The video, Innocence of Muslims, uploaded to YouTube by a user, must be condemned in the strongest words possible. While there are no two views that this video has hurt and offended sentiments, there are better ways of registering a protest against this video than a blanket ban on YouTube. The continuing ban on YouTube in Pakistan, which has been in place for nearly a year-and- a-half now, is depriving the citizens of Pakistan access to a platform where they can not only counter such videos by uploading positive ones about Islam and its teachings, but also utilize this platform for the acquisition of knowledge.

Right to Information

-  YouTube is a global video-sharing platform that hosts content uploaded by users from across the world

-  Before the ban, YouTube was being used by Pakistanis to access various types of content: lectures on Islam to recitations of the Quran; academic lectures shared by Ivy League universities; news bulletins and political talk shows by local media outlets etc

-  Musicians and artists in Pakistan were using it to promote their work across the world

-  Small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs were using it to market their work and products

-  YouTube was also a source of entertainment

- Based on a rudimentary analysis of only a limited number of YouTube channels and publicly available data, the following table summarizes categorized viewership of YouTube videos (shared by Khurram Zafar, July 2013):

Add 150x150 Submission to Court in YouTube Case: May 13, 2014

Click on image for full view

- The ban on YouTube violates citizens’ right to information

Legal Perspective

-  The ban on YouTube was placed through an executive order, issued by the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW), announced by then Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf on September 17, 2012

-  The IMCEW (whose secretariat is housed under the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunications [MOIT]) is not a statutory body constituted through an Act of parliament and derives no legal authority to issue directives to prevent access to any website or content

-  Nevertheless, the IMCEW’s orders are consistently implemented by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) through directives issued to its licensees (Internet Service Providers)

-  PTA, in compliance with an IMCEW order, instructed that an ‘IP-level ban’ be placed on YouTube

-  The PTA Reorganization Act of 1996 also does not give the Authority legal cover to prevent access to 
websites or content (Annex E)

Solutions:

-  A simple marketing principle for the web is this: the more you talk about something, the more traction it gets. In essence what the YouTube ban has done is popularize an otherwise unknown video and filmmaker, and driven traffic to the offending video – contrary to what should have happened

-    Alternately, the simple solution would have been just not to watch the video or any such material; unless one makes an effort to go to the specific URL, the video will not just show up

-     Unlike television, on the Internet, accessing content is a matter of choice; unless one deliberately undertakes the task of searching for a particular video and presses the play button, one cannot watch it

-  In blocking the entire domain, Pakistani citizens have been prevented from accessing a lot of useful content hosted on the platform and continue to suffer as a result

-  Empowering the state to make decisions for what is permissible and what is not sets a dangerous precedent; personal morality and political preferences then become the yardstick

-  Spending millions on filtering technology which for one, does not work, and placing it in the hands of state authorities is equivalent to giving them a carte blanche for setting up roadblocks where they please, restricting access to areas and breaking into citizens’ homes

-  The right to privacy, dignity, security, speech and information will be severely compromised, doled out at the state’s discretion

-  Self-regulation at the home-level is a better option than state regulation

Short-term solution: Interstitials as a solution to lift the ban on YouTube.

Long-term solution: The government and stakeholders work together to enable citizens to better control their access to the Internet, by raising awareness on safe Internet surfing including freely available tools, or alternately work to provide such tools and services, for example value added services, that users can opt for.

Annexure

A: 

Senate Committee Resolution Seeks to Lift YouTube Ban - DAWN

Senate Human Rights Committee Passes Resolution to Lift Ban on YouTube - Bolo Bhi

B: 

NA Unanimously Approves Resolution for Lifting Ban on YouTube - DAWN

NA Unanimously Passes Resolution to Lift Ban on YouTube - Bolo Bhi

Opposition Unites to Lift Ban on YouTube

MOIT Says It Will Comply With Court – But Has It?

C: 

PTA Chairman pleads for YouTube Ban Lifting - The Nation

No Way to Block Internet Content, NA Told – Dawn

D: 

Lifting the YouTube Ban in Pakistan – A Possible Solution by Khurram Zafar

E: 

Why the YouTube Ban is Illegal and Undesirable by Babar Sattar

 See Related Posts Here:

1. Summary of hearings April 12 and 26

2. Submissions to court made by Bolo Bhi up to July 4, 2013 

3. Submission by amicus Khurram Zafar on home-based blocking vs state
blocking

4. Google’s letter to court

5. PTA’s submission to court – July 25:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

6. Joint submission by Farieha Aziz and Khurram Zafar

7. Bolo Bhi’s submission to court on educational value of content available on YouTube (Part 1) – August 2, 2013:

Part 1

Part 2: Letters by 4 individuals – August 2, 2013:

Toffee TV

Salman Ansari

Imtiaz Noor

Muhammad Ismail

Interim order by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah

 

Pakistan’s advertising industry is no stranger to controversy. From lawn advertisements outraging conservative sensibilities due to supposedly provocative imagery, to witty sanitary napkin ads( based on Wikileaks), there’s always a product or an ad that is  debated upon furiously. The current ad being discussed, however, is controversial, not because of the content of the advertisement but rather, the product being hawked.

Renowned television chef Zubeida Tariq,  popularly known as Zubeida Aapa, has become the spokesperson for a “fairness soap” with the tagline, ‘ab gora hoga Pakistan.’ (Now, Pakistan will be fair skinned). The accompanying television commercial shows various women, young and old, clearly depressed and dejected.  Zubeida Aapa appears in a crowd of miserable women, as a female narrator proclaims that “people look beautiful when they are happy” and that Zubeida Aapa’s soap will make everyone’s skin white and beautiful. The ad ends with the miserable women happily cheering for Zubeida Aapa, saying, ab gora hoga Pakistan! (Now, Pakistan will be fair skinned)Zubeida Aapa Pale Realities:  Pakistans Obsession With Fair Skin

The ad in itself is no more offensive than any other skin whitening products. Like many before her, she is joining the bandwagon of a lucrative industry that is only expected to grow in the coming years, and in a society where wealth is power, who can blame her? One individual cannot bear the brunt of all criticism since it results in deflecting from the real issue at hand, which is the popularity of fairness creams, and the question of why our culture denigrates South Asian colored skin as much as it does. The problem is Asian in nature, rather than global; analysis of famous cosmetic companies shows that fairness creams and skin-whitening products from companies such as Nivea, L’Oreal, Ponds and others aggressively target Asian markets, rather than the Western market. (Much has to be said about the Western obsession with skin tanning, but that can be an entire post on its own)

The South Asian obsession with a fair complexion is perceived by many to be a result of post-colonialism. Almost 67 years after independence from British imperialists, the shadow of the British Empire hangs over us in the form of internalized colonialism. The roots of this obsession could be traced back to British imperialism, when privilege and an elevated status were indicated by the whiteness of your skin. As Afifa Faisal writes in The News, in 19th century Hindustan, whitening soaps represented a way for women to achieve the high status of white British women. “By removing from the skin the ‘stigma’ of dark skin, whitening creams correlate light skin with beauty and socioeconomic progress,” Afifa writes, but British colonialism ended long ago. So why does this obsession with fairness still remain?

It is a classic case of colourism, where privileges are awarded to members of society with lighter skin, while dark-skinned individuals lack privileges. Our advertisements mirror colourism, with dark-skinned women suffering in some way or the other, until a fairness product  miraculously lightens their skin color which instantly brightens (pun-intended) their future (they get married happily/ get a successful job/become popular).

Skin color, therefore, is portrayed and perceived  as an indicator of a particular social hierarchy within which those with lighter skin possess the privilege of an elevated socioeconomic status. The fact that fairness cream is used more by women is easy enough to understand, considering that within the patriarchal structure of our society, women already possess an inferior status and the concept of fair skin has long been the standard for beauty.

In a culture where women are  perceived as commodities, it is not so baffling to understand the pursuit of a fairer complexion. As Rafia Zakaria opines in Dawn, “looking like the people who once subjugated us is a remnant of Pakistani culture’s inability to move on from the idea that to be powerful, one must look the part.” As toxic as the Pakistani hatred for the West may be, it still isn’t powerful enough to wipe out decades of colonial enslavement, especially when the patriarchy’s obsession with objectifying women perpetuates that enslavement.

Even without our colonial history, the constant onslaught of Western standards of beauty through mass media are contributing towards an obsession with women’s appearance. American feminist Naomi Wolf deconstructed what she called “The Beauty Myth” in her book of the same name. She posited that as women gained more rights in America, the idea of beauty was being enforced through the cosmetic and fashion industry as the last of traditional, feminine ideologies used to oppress women. “The gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood.” Women were gaining access to public spheres such as the workplace, winning the right to vote, countering patriarchal concepts of religion, negotiating equal career opportunities. The only control left for the patriarchy was that of women’s beauty. Thus, all the punishments and taboos women had abolished for themselves, were reconstructed in the form of an obsession with their faces and bodies. Thus, the Western model for beauty became a white-skinned, half-starved model or actress with colored eyes, coated with layers of makeup, swathed with expensive branded clothes; a model emulated all across the world by women who, when assaulted by these images nonstop, developed insecurities with their own physical appearance. For Pakistani women, the blows come not only from internalized colonialism, but also, Western media.

That the beauty and fashion industry is oppressive and a tool of capitalist patriarchy, there is no doubt. And that is what makes these skin-whitening products so dangerous; the inherent violence of the beauty industry that they represent. The beauty industry operates by constantly assaulting women with images through mass media, reminding them of their non-existent inadequacies and failings. It then ensures that women, rather than engaging in the dangerous pastime of thinking creatively and intelligently, are trapped in a cage of insecurity and trying to break out by conforming to the standards of beauty thrust upon them. The self-loathing and poor body-image that results from this process is a vicious cycle wherein women attempt to be beautiful, youthful and desirable; in a South Asian context, this beauty and desirability will get you a good marriage, career opportunities, popularity, social status, etc. These same myths about beauty are mirrored in whitening cream ads as well, and contribute to the oppression of women since women cannot reach their full potential when they are busy striving towards impossible, and even unhealthy standards of beauty.

Dark Is Beautiful Pale Realities:  Pakistans Obsession With Fair Skin

Poster from Nandita Das’s Campaign

Why is it then that, despite frequent criticism of the skin-whitening, cosmetic industry, Pakistanis do not take it as a serious threat? Our neighbor India certainly has; In 2013, a law student in Bangalore filed a case against the manufacturer of an Indian crayons brand for unlawful trade practices, because beige crayon was labelled as ‘skin’ color, which he felt was a perpetuated obsession with fair complexion. Actress Nandita Das became the face of a campaign called “Dark Is Beautiful,” an initiative of Indian NGO Women of Worth, exhorting women to ‘Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful.” In an interview with the Times of India, Nandita discussed the obsession with fairness in Bollywood, and how she’d often be asked to whiten her complexion for a movie role because her character was supposed to be educated and successful, a marker of the socioeconomic connotations of a fair complexion.

While Pakistanis on social media have welcomed the campaign, the internet represents a small portion of the society, and without similar campaigns on Pakistani soil, the message will not be driven home in any case. Nor can we prioritize the needs of women based on other gender-based problems such as female illiteracy or violence against women(VAW). What point is there for education after all, when beauty standards still hold educated women back? How can we fight violence against women when we deny psychological violence? Being told, since childhood, that you are lacking because of your appearance, from friends, family, and the society is a violent theft of all sense of self-worth, thereby conditioning a woman to be a passive victim at the hands of abusers. It is high time that we as a society recognize the skin-whitening industry as a symbol of oppressive standards that even ensnares men in its net, and one that cannot be allowed to fulfill the predictions of its growth at any cost.

Update: Zubeida Tariq recently spoke about the whitening soap ad in an interview for Dawn. She agrees that the tagline ‘ab gora hoga Pakistan’ is problematic and says that she asked for the tagline to be removed. While the company behind the soap is now changing this tagline, Zubeida Tariq points out the double standards of society, where a whitening soap is criticized to the point of hurling abuse at it’s spokesperson, but advertisements which commodify women to sell products are acceptable in mainstream society.

The internet cannot be controlled by any one country, despite the best efforts of several governments. As the Snowden leaks reveal, State efforts to control the cyberspace can quickly turn into massive surveillance programmes that infringe on individual rights; a phenomenon quite familiar to Pakistan.

Since 2006, authorities in Pakistan have intermittently blocked social media websites such as Facebook and YouTube for various reasons [See Bolo Bho’s E-Regulation Timeline]. The longest ban Pakistan has ever experienced is the infamous YouTube ban, which was enforced in September 2012 in reaction to the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” posted on YouTube. The ban continues to this day, despite uproar from activists and organizations including Bolo Bhi. In early 2014, the government took the ban one step further by banning VPN software such as Spotflux, to prevent access to blocked sites.Read Bolo Bhi’s analysis of the VPN blockage here.]

The  Snowden leaks revealed how the NSA’s surveillance programmes that went beyond  espionage in the name of admittedly dubious national interest, and turned into massive  surveillance of American as well as foreign citizens. In an episode of “Ab Tou Bolo Bhi” [Bolo Bhi’s flagship TV show] that discussed internet regulation and the Internet Governance Forum in Bali (IGF), Barrister Zahid Jamil defended espionage by pointing out that it was a practice pursued by all countries for the sake of national interest and was not  a breach of international law. Sana Saleem countered this argument by pointing out that while espionage may be accepted as the necessary pursuit of private information, “to tap phone calls of a country’s civilians, that’s massive surveillance and  a violation of freedom of expression and speech.” The many ways in which Pakistan has limited and censored the internet for its citizens has started a domino effect where netizens in Pakistan are experiencing increased access denial. Pakistan now stands at a risk of becoming a police state with massive surveillance programmes targeted towards users of the internet and other communication technologies.

One example of Pakistan’s descent into surveillance chaos is that o“The Investigation for Fair Trial Act” that was introduced aa  counter-terrorism measure but, in fact, is a flawed law with far too many loopholes.Sana Saleem pointed out that the law was possibly rushed through because intelligence agencies needed to submit wiretapped information as proof in pending legal cases, whereas Zahid Jamil opined that the Fair Trial law had limited intelligence officiala great deal, and rather than making intelligence-gathering more convenientit had restricted officials and did not benefit anyone in any way. Another analysis of thee ffectivity of the law was by Journalist Maham Javaiwho dissected the law in detail.

In early 2014, draft of “Cyber Crimes Act 2014” was made public. The proposed law introduced severe punishments for minor offences, along with amendments to existing laws. Founder of Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) Nighat Dad described it as fragile and extreme in an op-ed, pointing out that the law was based on the “Indian Information Technology Act 2000” which itself came under fire for encroaching on the privacy of Indian citizens. Bolo Bhi also released a statement criticizing the law, and published a detailed analysis of it.

For the past many years and especially after the Snowden revelations, the global community working on internet freedom and privacy issues has increased focus on  counter-surveillance campaigns. A coalition of privacy organizations led by Privacy International, Access, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation introduced the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance as “Necessary and Proportionate Principles” to minimize surveillance measures around the world and bring them under judicial oversight. If Pakistan were to adopt similar principles in governing the internet without crossing the delicate line between regulation and privacy violation, many of our biggest problems regarding internet censorship would be solved.

Pakistan fits into widely accepted stereotypes about it being a regressive state when it comes to internet regulation. It is unfortunate that authorities in Pakistan are not focused towards creating access, but rather are ensuring that privacy becomes a distant myth. There is little to no focus on increasing access to information as authorities seem to focus more on cracking down on content. Other than failing to formulate laws and policies that protect citizens and uphold their right to speech and access, there is also a lack of transparency and consultation wit, which hinders effective formulation of laws and policies.

Opposition parties have come out firing against the Protection of Pakistan Bill (PPO), vowing to block it in the Senate. The Bill, passed by the National Assembly, is expected to be tabled in the Senate during the session currently in progress. Amending the bill to “constitutionalize” it before passing it and challenge it in court if efforts to block it are unsuccessful, are also options being considered by opposition members.

Why the PPO?

The PPO was first introduced as law by the President of Pakistan under the recommendation of the ruling party on the  October 20, 2013. According to the government, the Bill seeks to strengthen security forces including the army, Frontier Corps, police and Rangers in the battle against terrorist in Pakistan. The Bill has come under harsh criticism due to what seems like an attempt to turn Pakistan into a police state wherein the ability and powers of the police and law-enforcement agencies  have been disproportionately increased.

Proponents of the law, however, have defended it as a necessary step to curb the security situation of the country where political, sectarian and religious acts of terrorism have been increasing over the last decade. Supporters of the Bill have also argued it stands in line with precedents set in countries such as the US and UK. The US PATRIOT Act was passed only weeks after 9/11 in order to strengthen local law-enforcement agencies in combating home-grown and international terrorist threats to the US. Similarly, the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, was introduced in the United Kingdom.

What has largely been ignored by both the government and supporters of the Bill here are the severe implications. The consequences of this legislation on citizens’ rights will be far reaching if introduced in its current form:

In a discussion on the PPO on Siyasat Aur Qanoon, aired on April 12, the following concerns and required safeguards were raised by lawyer, Babar Sattar:

1) The government has failed to create a balance between policing powers and individual liberties.

2) The PPO reverses burden of proof and puts onus on accused vs accuser. Onus of proof should not be reversed. Accused should not have to prove he/she is innocent.   

3) The preventive detention mechanism needs have oversight – even if the oversight is confidential – so at least the detainees’ status is known to the family.

Watch full show here:

Let’s have a look at some of the problematic clauses of the PPO:

Search, seizure and arrest

3 (2)         (b) any police officer , a member of the armed forces or civil armed forces acting in aid of civil authority may  arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a scheduled offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion or credible information exists that he has committed, or is about to commit any such act or offence; and

3 (2)         (c) any such officer may enter and search, without warrant any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any property, fire-arm, weapon or article used, or likely to be used, in the commission of any scheduled offence.

Firstly, sections 3(2) (b) and 3(2) (c) allow law-enforcement agencies to act on mere suspicion and detain individuals and/or search their property. Section 3(2)(c) allows for search and arrest without requiring a warrant. A warrant is a required safeguard that ensures investigating and law-enforcement agencies do not transgress their boundaries and misuse their powers. Those who cite the example of the US Patriot Act fail to mention that such excessive powers are not given even there. The provision for “secret” warrants exists, and law-enforcement agencies are required to apply for them. The PPO doesn’t make provision for even this.  Secondly, vague terms such as  ‘reasonable suspicion’ and ‘credible information’ are vague clauses and the determination has been left to the discretion of law-enforcement agencies whereas at least magistrate-level discretion should be exercised.

Arbitrary Detention

6) The Government may by an order in writing issued by the Secretary Ministry of Interior, or any officer, not below the rank of BPS-21, specifically designated in this behalf, authorize the preventive detention of a person for a period not exceeding ninety days if there are grounds to infer that such person is acting in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, security, defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, or external affairs of Pakistan, or public order or maintenance of supplies and services;

Section 6 of the PPO allows for preventive detention, whereby individuals can be detained for up to 90 days without anyone knowing they are being held. In a country where missing persons (people detained without cause or knowledge of any court or authority by intelligence/security agencies) is already a pressing concern, the Bill will only serve to legitimize detention of people without cause for a lengthy period of time. And since no record of the detention will exist, the scope for abuse of this clause will extend to ridiculous heights. In the United Kingdom, control order which endowed the Home Secretary with limited powers of authorizing arbitrary detention was abolished in 2011 by the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act of 2011.

Burden of Proof

14. Burden of proof.- An accused facing the charge of a scheduled offence on existence of reasonable evidence against him, shall be presumed to be engaged in waging war or insurrection against Pakistan unless he establishes his non-involvement in the offence.

Section 14 of the PPO goes so far as to say “an accused shall be presumed to be engaged in waging war…unless he establishes his non-involvement.” This contravenes the fundamental principle of law where an accused is innocent until proven guilty – and it is not his/her job to prove his/her innocence; rather the accuser’s to prove the charge. If allowed in its current form, the PPO will deny citizens’ the fundamental right to a fair trial. It will put pressure on citizens who may not even have resources to fight a case, to protect themselves. Not only will the constitutional guarantee to a fair trial be subverted, but individual autonomy will be compromised due to the fear of presupposition of guilt of an innocent action.

Scheduled Offences

(1) The following acts, if committed with the purpose of waging war against Pakistan or threatening the security of Pakistan shall be the scheduled offences and includes other offences relating to:

(i)        acts that are calculated to influence or affect the conduct of Government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against  government conduct;

The problem with this definition is the lack of clarity. A fervent protest against the government may be arguably an act calculated to influence the conduct of the government. A strike and refusal to conduct business in protest for example certainly affects the government. Should government action or conduct not be the subject of legitimate criticism? Isn’t it the right of citizens to object and influence government conduct when they feel the government is in the wrong?

(xiv)  crimes against computers including cyber crimes, internet offenses and other offences related to information technology etc;

This clause vaguely alludes to ‘offenses without going to any detail. There currently exists no law in Pakistan where these are described. A cybercrime law is already being considered which contains detail of offenses, punishments and methods of investigation – some of which still need to be brought in line with the rights’ perspectives.  In the absence of clear definitions, this vaguely phrased clause will serve to infringe on rights and further stifle discourse online.

Conclusion

Supporters of the PPO have argued in favour of eliminating bureaucratic hurdles that will, in their view, only enable security forces to perform their duties more efficiently. The problem with this assumption is that it fails to take into consideration the lack of necessary checks and balances or safeguards.

As argued by Babar Sattar, draconian steps in the past such as the terrorism bill introduced by the Sharif government in the ’90s failed to yield any results whatsoever and sectarian strife is arguably worse today than it was back then. Similarly, illegal wire-tap and surveillance has been going on for years – now legitimized by the Fair Trial Act . That too, has not yielded desired results otherwise they would have been evident by now. Legitimizing misuse of power is not a solution.

Last week, members of the Bolo Bhi team observed a session at the National Assembly, anticipating a resolution to unban YouTube to be tabled. Member of National Assembly MNA Shazia Marri (PPP) had tabled a resolution seeking to lift the ban on YouTube on April 1, however, it never made it to the agenda. She was informed it would be put to the house in the next session: April 8. However, the resolution was omitted from the agenda despite the assurance.

During the assembly session, Leader of the Opposition, Khurshid Shah (PPP) raised this on the floor of the assembly and was assured it would be included in the agenda. However, the session neared its close and still the matter did not come up for discussion. Ms. Marri took the floor nonetheless to raise this issue. The speaker, however, maintained the matter was in court and thus sub judice, therefore could not be discussed. In response to this Ms. Marri read out portions from the judge’s interim order,  which stated that a “defenceless battle” was being waged against technology; that “it is impossible to block content 100% ;” and, most importantly, the government of the day had been instructed to devise a policy by the court.

It must be mentioned that  members of the opposition, namely Shireen Mazari (PTI), Dr. Arif Alvi (PTI), Syed Ali Raza Abidi (MQM) and Saman Jafri (MQM) had signed Ms. Marri’s resolution in support. MQM legislators raised point of orders to raise the issue which were quelled, and Ms Mazari was heard on the floor of the assembly saying “at least let her speak,” in reference to Ms. Marri.

However, this too held no sway over the speaker, and in an unprecedented occurrence, the assembly session was called to a close much earlier than usual time.

Minister for IT and Telecommunications, Ms. Anusha Rahman who attended the assembly session, left the NA  just before the issue was raised, delegating to a fellow party member to respond on this matter.

The next day, Bolo Bhi joined MNA Khurshid Shah, Shazia Marri and Senator Farhatullah Babar to issue a joint press statement from Leader of Opposition’s office, to register our concerns about the Government’s  lack of interest on this matter.  Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), who also tabled a resolution to lift the ban in the Senate, was present in person to support the issue, while legislators namely Dr Farooq Sattar and Syed Ali Raza Abidi of the MQM, Shireen Mazari and Dr Arif Alvi of PTI, and Senators Mushahid Hussain Syed (PML-Q) and Osman Saifullah Khan (PPP), all extended their support even though they could not be there in person.

In response to this joint statement, an official from MoIT contacted by the Express Tribune said the following: “The government has decided to disregard both the recommendations of a parliamentary panel and the resolution moved by Pakistan Peoples Party’s MNA Shazia Marri in the National Assembly this week.” According to a Ministry official, “the government would only follow the court orders.”

Have a look a how compliant the Ministry of IT has been with the courts:

Google’s letter not submitted to court by MoIT

It must be mentioned that a response was solicited from Google by the court in May 2013. The query was routed through the Ministry of IT and the response was to be submitted in June 2013. On the day of the hearing, an official from the Ministry of IT appeared and informed the court “Google was not interested in joining the instant proceedings.” This was a gross misrepresentation as the Ministry had already received a response from Google which it was supposed to submit to court. In the next hearing (July 2013), when this was raised in court, the document was discovered at the bottom of the case file. It appears that through a deliberate act, it was never formally submitted to court by MoIT.

Court directs MoIT to devise policy

After hearing all sides: petitioner, ministry officials, PTA, Google (through it’s response in letter form) and amici, the honourable judge directed the Minister of IT to appear in court, seeking a response from her on what the government intends to do about the ban.

An interim order dated August 2013 noted proceeding details and indicated a response that could be adopted to resolve this issue and similar ones if they occur in future. The government was instructed to come up with a policy.

Seven months on, no such policy was prepared.

Court summons Minister of IT – again

When in March 2014 court hearings resumed before a divisional bench (two-member), again the Minister was summoned. The judge wanted a clear yes or no on lifting of the ban. However, again, the Minister did not appear; security reasons were cited for the no-show. The Federal Secretary IT appeared on her behalf, however the judge said it was the Minister who was asked  to appear and it was her who needed to respond to court. As an alternate to appearing, the honourable judge then sought a written response by the Minister.

The response that was ultimately brought to court was rejected by the judge. It was not on a Ministry letterhead nor signed by the Minister.

The judge gave the federation two days for a proper response to be submitted. When the letter was received and contents read out, it was noted that it offered nothing substantive or new – it was a nine-month old response. Also as noted by the honourable judge, the letter did not respond to the question asked: what was the Ministry’s stance on lifting the ban on YouTube.

Court directs Minister to meet with IT experts

Following this, through a written order issued by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, heading the divisional bench hearing the YouTube case, the Minister of IT has been asked to meet with a committee of four IT experts (see here). This meeting has yet to be called – the members have not heard from the Ministry yet. Findings of this committee are to be compiled and submitted to court on May 13, 2014, which is the next date of hearing.

The issue as it stands

1) The government has not complied with court orders; in fact stalled proceedings by not appearing and submitting timely response.

2) By saying the government will not take an independent decision and follow court’s orders, it is actually contravening the court’s orders.

3) Resolutions by opposition members to lift the ban on YouTube, both in the National Assembly and Senate have been blocked. The government is trying to prevent discussion on this subject in the assemblies by saying the matter is sub judice, even though the court has clearly instructed it to meet with experts, consult stakeholders and devise a policy and move towards a solution.

View our resource document with links to court submissions, documentary & interviews and TV shows here

Facebook just published its second transparency report, revealing requests it receives from governments around the world for user data and content removal. The report introduces Facebook’s policy of dealing with government requests as “We respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases. Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency and we reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague”.

Between July and December 2013, the Government of Pakistan made a total of 126 requests for user data relating to 163 users or accounts, and Facebook fulfilled 47% of these requests. Moreover, access to content on 162  pages and profiles was restricted.Facebook describes Pakistan’s content restrictions as “content primarily reported by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications under local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state.” Since Facebook states that they check every report for “legal sufficiency”, it is alarming that “criticism of the state” is being listed as prohibited content in Pakistan.

facebook transparency report  1024x559 Facebook Transparency Report: Since When Is Criticism of the State Illegal in Pakistan?

In the past, Facebook pages of groups talking about secularism have reportedly been taken down by Facebook, including the widely read Urdu page “RoshniPK”. Given the history of content removal on Facebook, the recent report raises the following questions:

  • What criticism does the Government of Pakistan consider illegal and prohibited?
  • What laws are being cited by the authorities in Pakistan to make content takedown requests?
  • Regarding account information request, what law is being cited to demand such information?

Pakistan does not have laws that protect privacy of an individual on the internet. Even though the Constitution states privacy as an inviolable right, this is routinely overlooked under the pretext of “national security”.  There is currently no judicial oversight for wiretaps, surveillance and monitoring of content. Moreover, a significant number of Facebook pages inciting violence and hate speech targeted towards non-muslims, certain sects of Islam, atheists, and the military remain accessible. Therefore, it is even more important to ask that precisely what type of content are the authorities targeting? More importantly, the lack of transparency and accountability of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications must be scrutinized.

 

There is a strong reason to believe now that the traffic for our gateways is being managed by Netsweeper.

The research revolves around one of the key gateways that handles network traffic for Karachi, namely the following server:

khi77.pie.net.pk (202.125.134.154)

From within Pakistan, any attempt to access this server results in an access block.

However, when accessing this very same server from _outside_ of Pakistan such as the US, results in the following screen being rendered in browser (with a self signed certificate). Click on image below:

Netsweeper Image 150x150 Netsweeper in Use in Pakistan

If noted in the annotation, there is a clear graphic at the bottom indicating “Powered by Netsweeper”

If nothing else, this is clear evidence of Netsweeper’s software being installed on critical national network infrastructure. We anticipate that system administrators at PIE (Pakistan Internet Exchange) will be quick to block access to HTTPS on the gateway in question from the outside as well once access to it is publicized.

Imran Moinuddin is the Founder & CEO of NexDegree

Read More on Netsweeper:

June 20: Netsweeper in Pakistan?

Citizen Lab’s report on Netsweeper’s Presence in Pakistan

July 23: Letter to Canadian High Commission Seeking Disclosure on Netsweeper

September 9: Canadian Government Responds to Netsweeper’s Presence in Pakistan 

This article was originally published in Newsline’s September 2013 issue

“We’ve taught YouTube a lesson by banning it and forcing Google to lose out on revenue in Pakistan because it did not remove the video.” This was the populist response to the ban, which is now almost a year long, on the video-sharing platform. But was that really the case?

The ban on YouTube was imposed in September 2012 upon the orders of then prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf. This was in response to a film, Innocence of Muslims, uploaded on the video-sharing platform, which depicted the Prophet (PBUH) in a disrespectful manner. Citing the possible breach of law-and-order, the domain as a whole was blocked to prevent access to the video. On the face of it, it was a preventive measure to stop violence from erupting in reaction to the video. However, despite blocking the platform and announcing “Love the Prophet Day” with the government declaring it a public holiday, neither of these measures stopped the violent protests. News that such a film existed was fodder enough for riots.

Violent protests are not new to Pakistan. Be it at the time of the Danish cartoons, the release of the film Fitna or the caricatures competition hosted on Facebook – they all led to the loss of lives and property, when mobs took to the streets to vent their anger. And all of the damage was internal and cost Pakistanis, not anyone else.

Similarly, the assertion that YouTube was taught a lesson is also misplaced. YouTube’s earnings from countries based on ads have to do with its local presence. Monetary benefit based on views is only generated when there exists a local version of YouTube in the country. As is explained further in this article, YouTube or Google do not have a local or legal presence in Pakistan.

The thing to understand about the internet is this: It is designed in a manner in which 10 roads lead to one destination. If one is blocked, there are alternate routes. This should be evident enough through proxies, which have been used to circumvent blockades, time and again. The other fundamental distinction to be made is that unlike the broadcast medium, what one does not want to see, one will not see online. Unless one consciously makes an effort to search and, most importantly, click to visit a page or website, it will not just appear.

So what did the ban achieve? If anything, it highlighted an unknown video and unknown filmmaker and put them in the limelight – few people knew either existed before the ban. The ban peaked people’s curiosity, and the most unfortunate part is that the traffic to the video surged exponentially after attention was drawn towards it due to the ban. What the ban did not do however was prevent violent protests. If the ban was supported to register one’s protest against Google and YouTube for not removing the video, why did Spotflux and Hotspot Shield become household names, shared as good options to circumvent the ban and access the platform? If the intention was to remove oneself from the platform, why is it being accessed by hordes, despite the ban? And what is the point in keeping the website blocked when it is being accessed anyway?

Much of this and more came up in the ongoing hearing at the Lahore High Court regarding a petition seeking to overturn the ban on YouTube. Initially, during the hearings in April, the honourable judge was of the view that the video must be blocked but not the whole website as it contains other valuable content – particularly of educational worth. There were two approaches to this: A policy approach and a technology solution.

The policy approach involved asking YouTube (Google’s subsidiary) to block the video. There was much back and forth between the Ministry of Information Technology (MOIT) and Google, but it resulted in little success. What emerged through the discourse in court was that YouTube, as a policy, does not remove content that does not meet the criteria in its Community Guidelines. According to the Google Transparency report 2013, Google “received inquiries from 20 countries regarding YouTube videos that contain clips of the movie, Innocence of Muslims: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Djibouti, Egypt India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Australia, Egypt, and the United States requested that we review the video to determine if they violated our Community Guidelines, which they did not. The other 17 countries requested that we remove the videos. We restricted videos from view in Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Turkey. Due to difficult circumstances, we temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya.”

The other question that arose was: Why did YouTube restrict access to the video in other countries but not in Pakistan? The response to this was as follows: Access to the video was restricted in countries where Google was registered and had a country level domain – and neither exist in Pakistan. If Google is registered in a country, then the local laws are applied. Additionally, if country-level domains exist, the content is restricted at that level, not on dot com. Neither Google nor its subsidiary, YouTube, have any legal presence in Pakistan, neither is there a country-level domain.

What would it take to get Google to localise in Pakistan was the next question. There exists a thing called intermediary liability protection which in Pakistan exists for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This is basically a legal clause that stipulates that the service provider cannot be held liable for the actions of its users. In more simple terms, a telecom company for instance, cannot be held responsible for what its users say to one another through the use of their services. This, for online platforms, does not exist in Pakistan.

In the hearing held on April 26, 2013, the judge instructed the MOIT to seek a response from Google whether it would agree to localise if criminal intermediary liability protection was extended to it by the court for an interim period, until parliament legislated, and if that would enable the particular video to be blocked. Google in return asked the court for a period of four weeks to submit a written response on the matter, which was submitted in July. The thrust of Google’s response was this: “The decision as to whether to offer this service is a business, legal and commercial decision, and takes into consideration, for example, whether there is adequate legal certainty and protections for the provision of such online services in the country.” So not only would other considerations factor in for localisation in addition to intermediary liability, Google’s letter stated that without a legislated notice-and-take-down system through which very specific requests are routed, there can be no compliance with requests. One option that Google did offer was interstitial warnings, which is what led to the reopening of YouTube in Bangladesh in June.

An interstitial is a warning screen that appears as a disclaimer before a video displaying in writing: the content in this video may be inappropriate. The only way to watch the video is by clicking to proceed to it. The important distinction here is ‘should one choose to.’ And one very simply can choose not to by never clicking to proceeding to the video. With that, the chapter on what Google could do to resolve this problem came to an end. Next it moved to what MOIT and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) could do.

During the hearings in April, when questioned why particular links to the video had not been blocked but the website as a whole had, PTA officials had this to say: They would block one link and hundreds more would appear. That is when the decision was taken to block at the IP level. This decision, it was said, was taken by the IMCEW (Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites), and a document with the relevant notification was produced in court.

According to PTA, blocking takes place at the ISP level and depending on the ISP – whether it is a large one or small – and the different equipment they have, they can block up to a certain limit. With the video in question, one, the capacity to block links to this video had been exceeded. Two, while they were able to manage blocking HTTP traffic, they were unsuccessful in blocking HTTPS traffic. In a written submission made to the court by PTA on July 25, the authority maintained there was no system in Pakistan capable of blocking HTTPS traffic. In an earlier hearing, a PTA official had remarked that attempting to tamper with HTTPS traffic would be detrimental for commerce and industry.

Asked if upgrading capability and investing in filtering equipment could guarantee that the video and links to it would remain blocked 100%, the answer to this query was, no. This is what led the judge to question why one should then seek a solution that doesn’t guarantee results. Alternately, why not try and raise tolerance levels and make tools available that allow blocking at home, since morality is very subjective and varies family to family.

It is at this critical juncture that the matter rests and the next steps in terms of what the solution is, remains to be decided. On July 25, the judge issued instructions to the Secretary IT and Minister of State to appear at the next hearing so it could be communicated to them what everyone’s input has been and what the court’s mindset is on the issue. Twice, both the secretary and the minister did not appear and excused themselves. Once the date for the next hearing was set for September, alarming statements started being issued by the ministry.

The minister – and the ministry – have been in pursuit of filters from day one. Nothing on the internet can be blocked 100%. It is pertinent to mention here that even China with its ‘Great Firewall,’ which boasts an investment of with millions into it and with a battalion manning it, has not been able to succeed in blocking efforts 100%. Citizens have found ways to side-step and access blocked domains and content.

Despite how the discourse on the issue has evolved in court, the ministry has vehemently stuck to filters as the ultimate solution even though the risks associated with them have been pointed out repeatedly.

Accepting filters to reopen one platform will have terrible ramifications. Blocking a domain is one thing and does not involve invasive methods. But blocking encrypted traffic through methods such as man-in-the-middle attacks, which mask a third-party as the intended recipient to acquire data, is a dangerous deal to strike. As it is, there is no check on the powers of state bodies. What would happen when unfettered powers and technology tools are at their disposal? It’s no secret how in the past political content has been blocked under the garb of national security. If filters are introduced, who is to know – leave alone check – what is taken down in the name of anti-Islamic and ‘immoral’ content. And what happens to all communication online, that is left open for anybody to scour.

This is the first time a reasoned discourse has taken place – and the court has provided the platform where that could happen. Where else will government officials be in a position to come face-to-face with civil society counterparts, and actually listen – even if not heed – to what they say. But now it is for the top officials of the bureaucracy to adopt a more multi-stakeholder and participatory approach. It won’t be enough to issue statements and remain disconnected from the proceedings. The matter needs to be resolved by taking into account views of all stakeholders instead of making decisions unilaterally.

See also an op-ed written for the Express Tribune: Why Filtering the Internet is a Bad Idea

The Ministry of Information, Technology & Telecom (MoIT) in Pakistan was actively considering filtering softwares as a solution to unban YouTube. According to reports, these filters are already in place. This, to them, is the ultimate solution to all evil that exists on the Internet. Why is that a big deal? Well, for one, it is a direct infringement on my constitutional right to privacy. Let’s talk about how.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation. Let’s say that the world we are living in currently now is called ‘the Internet.’ Similar to that what we see in the Matrix or Tron Legacy. Let’s say that when you step outside of your house to run a few errands, you’re followed by a faceless individual who keeps track of every move you make. How many steps you took to get into your car, where you’re going, what you purchased, how much you spent in your purchase, the route you took on your way back home, what time you walked back into your house. EVERY move you make is documented and watched. We would feel oddly threatened, our liberty and freedom of movement compromised, and I would not feel comfortable living in such a situation. I would do all I could to break free from such a hostile living environment.

Translate this to our life on the Internet. Filters, especially those that do away with HTTPS, do away with secure protocols that ensure communication is encrypted and only accessible to the intended recipient, not anyone along the way. If this is done away with, or tampered with, it would mean all our emails, Skype conversations, purchases on Amazon, every move we make online will be or is already being documented and tracked – by the state and whoever else has access. Why would the state be interested in knowing that I purchased the latest copy of Robert Jordan’s book online? Why must I divulge the private conversations I have with my friends on Facebook? Would the state consider that as a source of gathering intelligence? How much intelligence would they precisely gather when my friends and I talk about how we unabashedly wept during Marley & Me?

Another question arises. What of those pages which clearly state that the connections over which they are being transmitted are secure? Amazon, for example, when you’re about to make a purchase which involves you putting in your credit card information. What about those banking websites which allow you to make transactions online? Does that mean that with these filtering-cum-monitoring softwares, the government will be able to track my personal finances too? The answer to these questions unfortunately, is yes.

When you go onto websites, for example, while I write this article, I’m listening to music on Soundcloud with the link on the address bar appearing as, “https://soundcloud.com/”, the HTTPS implies a secure connection. The “S” is the clue. If and where the HTTPS appears to be green on your address bar, the connection is untampered and secure. It has not been broken anywhere. Where the link on the address bar starts with “HTTP”, that is not a secure connection and can be easily intercepted. All banking websites and social networking websites operate on an HTTPS protocol which makes it difficult – nigh near impossible – for third parties to be privy to personal communication and information. In fact the State Bank has even upgraded to TLS.

So how can filters enable snooping? This is where Man-In-The-Middle attacks come in. What are MITM attacks? Let’s say you’re calling a person you haven’t ever spoken to before, for the first time on the telephone for something as harmless as a reservation at a restaurant. Someone picks up your call, you believe this person to be a representative at the restaurant. Simultaneously, the restaurant receives a call from someone pretending to be you. They give your information to the person at the other end, whereas a completely different person, after listening to everything you have said, passes on that information to the restaurant. You hang up the phone believing it is the restaurant you have spoken to, not suspecting that someone else, someone completely unknown to you, has noted down everything you have said. With HTTPS connections, MITM attacks are the only way around and filters would have to employ this deceitful method to block.

A point that may or may not be appropriate to mention here is that I love travelling. It proves to be quite a harrowing experience with me clutching that green passport. I’m subjected to a number of oddly violating security checks. My most recent trip was to Bangkok, where everyday I would come across a temple right outside one of Bangkok’s largest shopping malls. I would always look at the temple-goers respectfully. Does my walking in front of a temple and respecting the beliefs of others make me a bad Muslim? Does the choice I made secure my eternal damnation? I’d like to think not. Why? Because like everything in this world, God gave me a choice and the capacity to choose what’s best for me. And I chose to bow down in front of the Ka’bah.

If I were a perfect rendition of our government, I would not just cease to walk in front of that mall, I would never set foot in Thailand ever again. In fact, I would never set foot in any country in South East Asia. Makes perfect sense. Perhaps when they see that I’m not travelling to their country, when they see that one empty seat on the airplane which would otherwise be occupied by me, they would mend their ways and go to a mosque instead of a temple. Sounds like an excellent plan.

By that logic, the government should revoke diplomatic ties with all non-Muslim states, confiscate everyone’s passports lest they attempt to enter any country. Pakistan International Airlines should stop operating flights land to countries that are not Islamic. Each and every politician who holds a British or an American passport should relinquish his/her dual nationality because British and Americans are predominantly non-Muslims.

What the champions of the Muslim faith do not realize is that every choice we make is a test of a certain degree. A test to affirm our belief in our religion. If I’m surrounded by individuals sipping on alcohol, would I conform? If everyone around me is munching on bacon, would I do the same? If adultery is considered a social norm, would I do it as well? The answer to these questions, is between God and me and not between me and His creations. The aforementioned things can be found in abundance or are being practiced openly in the land of the pure that is Pakistan. The real test is whether we choose to do them or not.

Similarly, YouTube, a global video-sharing website hosts all kinds of content. And as I write this, I’ve clicked on a video that appeared on my Facebook newsfeed by a page called, “The Deen Show,” which is all about Islam and answering questions about religion. It directed me to a link on YouTube, but alas! I cannot access it. By the very same logic that has been applied by our government in restricting access to YouTube, their moral filters prevent me from accessing such religious and Islamic videos. Is that also blasphemy?

The question that I put forward is why the State is being allowed to make decisions for me? Why are choices being eliminated from the public? If the video is blasphemous then why would a country that is populated by such pious Muslims ever, consciously search for the video and watch it? It must be understood that YouTube has numerous videos and unless explicitly searched for, no video will simply appear. Why deprive the populace of this the video-sharing website who utilized this platform for purposes which I assure you do not include watching this particular video.

The verdict lies in the element of choice. The freedom to choose. If a person is as pious as they perceive themselves to be then they will not, out of conscious reverence, search for that video and watch it. If some do, then that matter is between God and themselves. We are neither religious nor moral champions to make decisions for others.