Benjamin Franklin, who is regarded as one of the Founding Fathers of the nation that proudly sings the Star-Spangled Banner, once said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”   Moving the clock ahead by about three hundred years, we have the current President of the United States, Barack Obama, who said, “in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are.”

The convolution of the “American dream” and what it implies, has wrought havoc in the socio-political landscape, which has continually evolved. May be, a few within the American political fold would refute Mr. Franklin’s statement by stressing on the volatile political and security landscape. Perhaps, Mr. Franklin did not take into consideration that magical boxes of light with a keyboard in front of them would constitute the gravest threat that the land of the free and the home of the brave would face. However, it is immaterial to discuss the volatility of changing political perspectives, what must be constant and an overriding force to dictate how a government operates is the element of law. The legal implications of a state defying its own or internationally ratified doctrines of legal principle.

In June of 2013, a person of whom the world had never heard of, an employee of the National Security Agency, by the name of Edward Snowden shook the world and the US Government by revealing that the foremost security agency in the developed world, was keeping tabs on, for the lack of a better word, everyone.

Pakistan, according to reports, was the second most surveilled country by the NSA, this came as a rude shock given the amount of existing “data-sharing” between the American Government and its ally. However, Pakistan itself prides on being the last in implementing the latest technology and ensuring the essential freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of 1973. But the core crux remains how the theory of American exceptionalism in regard to international laws has allowed the State to willfully disregard the validity of international law and is unperturbed about the violations its own government agencies are now committing.

After September 11, 2001, the US Congress felt that the US was grossly ill-equipped to tackle terrorist threats on domestic soil. The restrictions placed on agencies to conduct domestic “spying” which included, but was not restricted to wiretapping and other surveillance methodology were subsequently removed, though the agencies had to obtain court orders to conduct such surveillance, giving the judicial arm of the State supreme authority to condone such acts. The Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that worried Congressmen due to the blatant manner in which it stripped civil liberties, remained intact and was renewed. However, this post does not refer to national legislation, but the manner in which the US is violating international law.

The United States of America ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992, giving the Human Rights Committee the authority to review human rights violations which are either taking place with the legal jurisdiction of the US or violations which US agencies are committing. In the light of evolving technology, the UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay at the opening session of the Human Rights Committee meeting stated, “Powerful new technologies offer the promise of improved enjoyment of human rights, but they are vulnerable to mass electronic surveillance and interception. This threatens the right to privacy and freedom of expression and association” reaffirming the notion that the American breach of citizen and noncitizen privacy is a major breach of international law.

Turning the interrogation lamp onto the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Section 702 of which gives US Security agencies broad, sweeping powers to conduct surveillance is in gross violation of the ICCPR which provides the following four principles to gauge whether such power is within the realm of human rights:

  • Limited by statute and clearly defined in nature and scope
  • Narrowly tailored to address legitimate governmental objectives, such as threats to national security
  • Subject to independent oversight systems to prevent abuse
  • Applied equally irrespective of nationality

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which the PRISM program falls, fails each of the above requirements. The Report and Recommendations the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies states, “The United States must protect, at once, two different forms of security: national security and personal privacy”. Moreover, the report also states, “The United States should be a leader in championing the protection by all nations of fundamental human rights, including the right of privacy, which is central to human dignity”.

Such statements made by the President’s advisory group stand in stark contrast with the practice of the US Government. Such disregard for international doctrines are at polar opposites with US rhetoric and global policies. The Snowden revelations have already created ripples through the cyber sphere, stifling choices made by citizens on the services they connect to, what they make publicly available and the activities they engage in online, restricting their freedom of choice, which is also a violation of international law. What the US must realize is that internet security is a two way street: By giving legislative effect to collect, indiscriminately, personal information of non citizens,  can give other Governments the incentive to do the same with American citizens. In order to protect the rights, interests and information of its own citizens, the US administration must ensure the same of citizens which do not salute the star spangled banner. The there is also a significant debate about the NSA spying on it’s own citizens as well, an issue that has grabbed the attention of all of US media.

The United States of America is widely considered the sole global power: It must be the harbinger of peace, stability and the protection of fundamental freedoms, the very idea upon which the US Declaration of Independence was penned. The US must be the very example of adhering to global policies and laws, and not be the one violating them if it doesn’t want to be seen as hypocritical.

All of us, at some stage or the other, have typed our names into various search engines. Some have been met by a wall of fame meticulously archiving all their wonderful achievements. Others, including myself, have been met by a chronicled horror show of teenage angst and a laundry list of things we wish we hadn’t said or done. For the latter we all desperately wish we could erase all evidence of our naïve past from the vast cosmoses of the Internet.

The debate on the privacy of one’s information online has stretched on for a very long time now, yet it is no closer to a conclusive, accepted standard than it was when it first started. However, a recent EU ruling suggests it has settled on a standard – acceptable or not is up for debate.

EU Ruling

The debate over the right to be forgotten, at least in the European Union culminated on the May 13, 2014, when the European Court of Justice, in a lengthy decision in the case of Google Inc v Mr Costeja González, ruled that any individual could demand that a search engine remove all unwanted information about the individual from its index – regardless of whether it were accurate, lawful, or publicly available elsewhere.

In the case itself, a legally published article from a newspaper in 1998 detailing Mr González’s non-payment of his mortgage had been archived online and searching for his name on Google brought up the article as one of the results. Mr González sought to have Google remove the archive as he believed it acted to his detriment and infringed upon his privacy.

Given the reaction and criticism the ruling has elicited, the case is not as straightforward as the ruling may suggest. One of the questions being asked is why must onus to remove data be on a search engine when it is not responsible for the publication of that data (and that it is the user who chooses to publish). With regards to this, judges opined that the indexing of pages on the Web fit the definition of “processing” data as per the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which Google was under a legal duty to abide by. The Court felt that by aggregating a vast amount of data on an individual, a search engine creates a larger illustration of the individual that would otherwise “not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty.”

The ruling however creates an exception to the rule. The court held that the right to be forgotten could not be applied if there was an “interest in the public having that information… [and] the role played by the data subject in public life.” This is vastly open to interpretation. What satisfies the threshold of an individual playing a substantial role in public life? Is the threshold satisfied if he/she is a politician? If he/she has five-figure Facebook friends /Twitter followers? What about a circumstance in which an individual is not a “public personality” at that point in time and successfully manages to have data on him/her removed from search engines, only to later become the Prime Minister of the country? Will the onus be on a company/search engine to restore all data on the individual that they previously expunged?

To further illustrate the complexities of such a threshold, how it is to be determined and by whom, here is a list of individuals who have requested Google to have data on them removed from its indexes. A list ranging from politicians, celebrities, doctors, to convicted sex-offenders.

Prior to the ruling by the European Court of Justice, Google policy dictated it would remove any information from its index if it made individuals susceptible to certain harms. The ruling however goes a lot further and allows individuals to erase their digital footprint even in cases where it may be highlighting previous misdemeanours. It is therefore no surprise that both Google and Wikimedia – the parent company of Wikipedia – have deemed the EU ruling to be “astonishing.”

It is interesting to review the impact of this ruling in the context of a on recent case in local German courts. Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber’s claim to fame was their murder of a German actor in 1990. They sued Wikimedia to “forget them” and remove all mention of their past act. Under German law, a criminal’s name can be suppressed in news accounts once he/she has served his/her sentence. The German courts, in line with precedent, did order Wikimedia to suppress all content related to the two, however, as Wikimedia had no local operations in Germany, it was not jurisdictionally obligated to abide by a decision of a German court.

If jurisdiction were not a barrier, the outcome in the above-mentioned case would boil down to a question of whether the public has an interest in knowing the past actions of Werlé and Lauber. That is a criteria easy to stretch to fit any narrative, for example, one could put forth the argument that the convicted individuals had a better chance of rehabilitation if their history was expunged. If such an argument succeeded, it would be akin to individuals erasing an integral part of their past, and denying their future associates access to information that perhaps should be known to them before embarking on a mutual endeavor.

Requiring intermediaries to alter – and as viewed by some, censor – data on the Internet could, in the long run, stifle intermediaries, restricting them from providing services that afford free and easy access to information. Also, if legally obtained and published information about individuals starts being removed, neutrality of data and the Internet would be further diminished.

Quoting Orwell, “He who controls the past, controls the future,” said a statement on the case issued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group. In this case, the lines are blurred and who has the authority to do what is unclear.

Divergent views on the ‘right to be forgotten’

The right to be forgotten is a dangerous path to tread upon, argues Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at George Washington University. If unfettered permission is granted to expunge people’s past, ideals of free speech and a neutral Internet can quickly be forgotten, and corporations and powerful individuals will have greater authority to control the flow of information online.

Proponents of the ‘right to be forgotten’ argue that every individual deserves the right to privacy. The vast picture of our stories that is painted across the internet can be collected by people and used in order to commit a vast range of misdeeds, ranging from identity theft to stalking individuals. On the other hand, opponents of the ‘right to be forgotten’ claim all information available on the Internet is published legally – and often voluntarily self-published by an individual online. Their view on the ‘right to be forgotten’ is that is just another way enabling governments, companies and individuals to exert control over what may and what may not be published online. On the flip side, if one is not allowed to remove their digital footprint under certain circumstances, there can be a very real threat to the security of their person. Striking a balance between the two extremes is imperative.

The cultural juxtaposition between the respective approaches of the EU and US towards this issue, poses an interesting reading. While the EU has acted to limit the scope of information that is publicly accessible citing privacy laws, the US and its First Amendment stand in direct opposition. Accurate or not, what the two divergent positions have been defined as are privacy vs censorship.

What the debate really boils down to is a question of individual liberties: does the liberty to either express oneself or access legitimate information outweigh the need to protect one’s privacy? Is it even valid to deem acts legitimately published in the public domain as private? Is this polarity reasonable to begin with? The answers to these questions require also are not straightforward and call for complex reasoning and, at a glance, consideration that this is anything but a simplistic matter and requires further deliberation is found missing in the European Court’s decision.

The majority view on the decision is that it is sweeping in nature and seemingly fails to address the balance between public and private data. According to the Stanford Law Review, it is imperative to draw up a comprehensive policy that provides a clearer framework of data that ought to be protected, and data that need not be. However, such policies must ensure that the right to free expression and access to information are construed widely and only subverted where there is legitimate harm being caused to an individual not to hide a ‘wrongdoing’ on their part.

Edit: Since this article was published Google has launched a portal wherein European citizens can request that links containing information about them are removed from search result pages.This is the first step to comply with a court ruling affirming the “right to be forgotten”.

References

The Stanford Law Review

The European Journal of Law and Technology

The New York Times

The Guardian

 

Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a  collaborative venture by law school clinics and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that collects and analyzes legal complaints about online activity, posted online five requests made to Twitter by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). 

The requests were made between May 5-14, 2014 and cite the Pakistan Penal Code as legal justification for content removal. These requests were entertained as per Twitter’s ‘Country Withheld Content’ tool , which entertains requests from government and law enforcement agencies to have potentially illegal content and accounts removed or restricted in the country making the request.

The question that then must be asked is of the legitimacy of the requests forwarded by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). The PTA, in accordance with Section 5 of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Re-Organization Act 1996 (amended 2005) is a body established to regulate licenses and workings of telecommunication services and systems. The Act does not in any form give PTA the authority to arbitrarily restrict content on the Internet. Section 8 of the Act allows the Federal Government to authorize the PTA to take or implement certain policy decisions; however, content removal, whether by itself or through another, is beyond the ambit of powers of the PTA or of any government authority for that matter.

PTA has gone on record to say previously – in court and the media – that it is the IMCEW’s (Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites) directives it follows vis a vis restriction of access or content online. As a regulator, it says it does what is directed to do.

If there was federal authorisation for these requests, then in the interest of transparency, the relevant bodies should make public the legal process followed to route these requests. Who initiated the complaint, where was the complaint made, who forwarded it and what law specifically was cited for removal.

It is pertinent to highlight that Pakistan does not have cyber laws or any clearly defined policy that applies to the Internet. No specific protections exist in law that support user privacy and citizens’ right to information.  In the past, content has been blocked in an ad hoc manner. A lot of political dissent has been blocked under the garb of blocking anti-religious or anti-national content, disregarding citizens’ right to information and the need for transparency and accountability.

Twitter’s ‘Country Withheld Tool,’ while seeking to facilitate the manner in which governments make requests, is worrisome for citizens in countries where no transparent and legal processes exist for access and content on the Internet. Over the last few years, various authorities have arbitrarily blocked and censored the Internet, not over ‘illegal’ content, but to suppress political dissent. The process by which requests from governments are entertained by Twitter must also be made public knowledge. What is considered a valid complaint, through what process and policy?

Speedy compliance without this information being placed on public record sets a dangerous precedent and hampers efforts of those seeking to limit censorship on the Internet in Pakistan.  Government authorities have routinely cited Facebook’s speedy compliance with take down requests as a justification to continue the ban on YouTube, and it appears as though Twitter is joining that league requiring little in way of due process to comply with requests.

Watch Barrister Babar Sattar’s Legal Analysis regarding Internet Policy, Law & Fundamental Rights

 

 

In 1994, when the internet age arrived in China, President Jiang Zemin believed that the world was moving towards a new age where technology and information would be of utmost importance and would provide the impetus for progress. That acted as an incentive to begin incorporating technology to uplift China’s booming economy. But as Deng Xiaoping, one of China’s Eight Elders once famously said, “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.” In order to keep these “flies” out of China, its leaders began to develop the Golden Shield Project in 1998, which  was unveiled in 2000 and implemented in 2006.

This project of massive surveillance and censorship started out as an attempt to maintain records of citizens and control content. It however, quickly spiraled into a mass surveillance and control mechanism for citizens of China, thus earning the nickname; “The Great Firewall of China.”

Today, the state of Chinese netizens is deplorable. Companies practice self-censorship out of fear of being shut down by authorities if they fail to comply with the strict laws on censorship. Citizens cannot access many websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, DropBox, and Twitter, and even the TOR browser has been blocked. Website activity and telephone conversations are monitored to ensure that censored words such as “protest” are not being used (even Shakespeare is not exempted).

Websites such as Google are censored to the point that if Chinese citizens search for Tiananmen Square, they won’t see any images or links related to the massacre of 1989 but only tourist images of the Square itself. Books, articles, and films related to the massacre have been completely censored as well. Several activists and journalists have been arrested for even referring to the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre over email. In 2012, the Chinese authorities also started to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that allowed citizens to access blocked websites.

In June 2013, The Guardian began publishing a series of articles that revealed how the National Surveillance Agency (NSA) was spying on Americans and foreign citizens using programs such as PRISM, which collected information including search history, web-chat, and emails, as well as collecting phone data.  According to a detailed report in The Guardian, “The NSA had secretly attached intercepts to the undersea fibre optic cables that ringed the world. This allowed them to read much of the globe’s communications. All of Silicon Valley was involved Google, Microsoft, Facebook, even Steve Jobs’s Apple. It had even put secret back doors into online encryption software – used to make secure bank payments – weakening the system for everybody. The spy agencies had hijacked the internet.”

The surveillance was not  limited to possible criminals or people with links to terrorist organizations- as whistleblower Edward Snowden explained in his first public  interview for The Guardian, “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded…it’s getting to the point where you don’t even have to have done anything wrong, you only have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made…attack you on that basis…and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”

Globally, China is seen as a repressive state with limited, if any freedom. America, while criticized for many reasons, is largely perceived as a liberated country, and it’s people’s freedoms are idealized a great deal. American society is also shifting towards a more egalitarian model, with various individuals and organizations battling for gender and racial equality.  But a mostly liberated public and fundamental human rights are clearly not mutually inclusive for the American Government, given  the state is carrying out extensive surveillance, not just on its own citizens, but foreign countries as well.

In Pakistan, censorship began as early as 2006, when the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA)  began aggressively blocking websites that were deemed to have objectionable, immoral or blasphemous material.  In 2012, reports emerged claiming that the PTA was pursuing a URL-filtering system whereby, instead of blocking websites on an IP level they could simply target specific URLs (including ones within websites).

While, the YouTube ban is still in place since 2012, in late 2013, the Sindh government attempted to ban Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, and other chat applications for a period of three months claiming national security concerns. While the Sindh government did not go ahead with the plan amid backlash from users, it is an alarming notion that they would  consider limiting the ways in which people communicate.

Pakistan, like China, longed to ban the use of VPNs. Earlier this year, PTA began a crackdown on VPNs in the garb of “curbing grey traffic”. This began with banning SpotFlux, and gradually moved on to other VPNs such as HotSpot Shield and CyberGhost, which meant that netizens could no longer access YouTube, unless they used proxies.  (Read our post on VPN blocking in Pakistan)

While Pakistan may lack the technological sophistication that United States has at its disposal, it is clear that for a long time, Pakistan has been greatly inspired by China’s censorship policies. The ban on YouTube, and previous short-lived bans on social networking websites Facebook and Twitter, as well as the surveillance technology FinFisher and URL-filtering and blocking software Netsweeper, are reminiscent of the many ways in which China carries out its censorship and surveillance. In fact, in late April 2014, PTCL partnered with Dailymotion to bring the website to Pakistan. This is no different from what China has done, blocking websites such as YouTube to replace them with its own YouKu, Sina Weibo as a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, and even localized search engines.

The political condition in China, when it began to implement its repressive policies, and of Pakistan in the past decade is largely different. China’s oppressive regime has been silencing its people with brutality and censorship long before the internet was created.

Individuals and organizations are comparatively freer to criticize government censorship in Pakistan, and yet they are still living with partial censorship. The government still shows a lack of interest in removing the YouTube ban despite vocal opposition from civil society. PTA has gone on record to state that it does not conduct surveillance, despite the presence of Finfisher servers in Pakistan. It is also quite clear that the government, especially the Ministry is not consulting with civil society activists and organizations and thus, operating under willful ignorance.

The comparison between the digital landscapes in Pakistan and the repressive conditions in China are valid, and much-needed. The image is bleak, but needed to reflect where we are headed in terms of digital privacy and access to information.  Pakistan could replicate the Chinese model of censorship in efforts to govern the internet, and that is something that cannot be allowed to happen.

 

Mr. Mohsin Shah Nawaz Ranjhahas, the Parliamentary Secretary of Information & Broadcasting, recently made an all too popular  statement regarding social media, and problems that are common for users worldwide. Commenting on the misuse of social media by “online miscreants”, Mr. Ranjhahas said that the government would formulate a policy to deal with ‘false information’ spread online through ‘fake identifications.’ The name ascribed to those who pose such  a problem is an internet troll. It is important to understand that there is a difference between harmless, good-humored trolling and vicious, abusive trolling. Friends and acquaintances may tease each other or joke in good humor, but on the darker end of the spectrum, there are individuals whose sole intention is to create an environment of hostility and discrimination. This kind of troll is someone who will use a fake identity online to harass people, spread rumors as facts, or relentlessly criticize someone in order to provoke an emotional response. Trolls will often operate with multiple identities, so if you block one social media profile, another will take its place. It may sound like there is no way to thwart a troll, but in actuality, there are several.

Trolls always want an audience to witness their abuse and bullying, because they crave attention in one form or the other. That is why they will often congregate on social media websites, where many people can see them engaging people in their banalities. They either attempt to publicly humiliate others, or they believe a large audience should hear their opinions, which is why, especially on political issues, an online troll will say the same thing to different people, mostly opinion leaders such as talk show hosts and news anchors, seeking approval from authority figures.

In cases where trolls attack political or public figures, the intention is almost always to cast negative light upon the individual; the troll may dislike the person’s political affiliations, public opinions, or in some cases, even aspects of their personal life. However, as wrong and mentally distressing as the deeds of online trolls are, that cannot serve as an excuse to limit, censor, or ban social media in any way. There are many ways to deal with this particular nuisance, and we, the good folks at Bolo Bhi have enlisted a number of efficient ways that work much better than policing the internet.

Understand the difference between trolling and expressing opinions: This is especially important when you occupy a position that frequently places you in the public eye, such as working for a media group, the state, or a public sector organization. Even if the expression of the idea conveyed an aggressive tone, it is still covered under free speech, and unless there is an explicit threat to your personal safety, or of your friends and family, there is no cause for any action at all. You can either a) choose to ignore the criticism, or b) address it by engaging in civil, polite discussion, or c) if you do not wish to engage in a lengthy debate, only tell the person that you understand what they’re saying and that you can just agree to disagree.

Block & Report as spam: All social media platforms provide the option for users to block unsolicited commentators and report them as spam. This is not a permanent fix, you block one account and others may pop up. Despite the fact that this will act as a temporary deterrence, it is an important one, as we will go on to explain in step 4.

Do not feed the trolls: A common phrase on how to deal with online bullying is “do not feed the trolls.” When someone is harassing and/or threatening you, there is certainly a serious issue, but when an online troll is only trying to provoke a response out of you, it may  be better to simply ignore the troll. Online bullies and trolls feed on other people’s rage, discomfort, and unhappiness; by making jokes and comments to upset people. Reacting with discomfort and annoyance to trolling is giving trolls what they want. We are not asking you to make light of threats or to not deal with harassment, deal with it, but do not exhaust yourself by engaging with an aggressive troll.

Report abuse: Remember in step two when we asked you to report individual’s statements as spam? Well, this is precisely why. All social media platforms flaunt an abuse policy and a method to report abusers. We have made a list of email addresses to reach out to in case you are facing abuse on social media. When writing the email, remember to provide all necessary details, screenshots of the accounts’ tweets, the screenshots reporting spam and lastly, a list of all accounts that are involved in harassing/trolling should be included.

Investigate the troll’s identity: Sometimes, it is easy to understand a troll’s ideology by reading the content they share on social media, or the tweets or comments they may be making in public, or they might even write on a blog. By investigating public content that is not a violation of the troll’s privacy, you can understand their ideology, which may be against your own opinions, political affiliations, or beliefs. Armed with this knowledge, you can then inform the social media public about how you’re being harassed by someone because of your opinions and views, thereby exposing the troll to criticism, rather than becoming the target of criticism yourself by reacting poorly to trolling attempts.

Block IPs yourself when possible, or through external sources: If you’re being trolled on a website or blog such as WordPress, there are numerous options that allow you to block the IP Address of a troll, so they cannot make various fake identities and harass you. In cases where IPs are not identified such as social media, the websites in question cannot release information such as IP addresses to a civilian, and can only do so when an official request is made by authority figures. In such a case, you can take a screen capture of the content that is harassing or threatening you, and get in touch with CPLC  who can help you take steps to ensure your personal and online safety.

Protect your privacy online: The content we share through social media connects us to friends and family, but it can also be used against us. It is essential to familiarize yourself with whatever social media platform you are using, and know your privacy settings from status updates to your photos. Make sure that your close friends and family protect their privacy too, as trolls will often target what they perceive to be your weakness, such as your nearest and dearest. Bolo Bhi has a list of resources for maintaining your digital security, and ensuring that personal, sensitive information cannot fall in the hands of anyone who means you harm.

 

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How to report abuse on Facebook

Facebook Safety Center

Report a Violation of Facebook Terms

How to report harassment or abuse if you’re not on Facebook

Privacy rights: Photo removal request

Report a privacy rights infringement

Report a convicted sex offender

Report blackmail

Report suicidal content

Report abuse at: abuse@facebook.com

Twitter:

How to report an abusive user

Report account for impersonation

Report account for spam

Report a problem to the support team

G+:

Report a profile

Report spam or inappropriate content

Report abuse in public video hangouts

Report abuse on events

Contact a Gmail user abusing Google’s Terms of Service (TOS)

Compromised Gmail account

Learn about suspicious activity on your Google account

Gmail security checklist

How to delete your Google Plus profile

Yahoo:

Reporting spam, phishing, or scams to Yahoo

Report an inappropriate comment or abuse on Yahoo

What to do if your account is sending spam

What to do if you’re being harassed on Yahoo

Form for contacting Yahoo

 

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

 

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.

 

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