surveillance In Search of Utopia  

The author of this post spent a countless amount of time staring at the screen, contemplating a possible topic for a post, his mind wandering from Edward Snowden to Robin Williams to Krispy Kreme to Red Alert: Yuri’s Revenge. Having unsuccessfully decided on a topic, the author instead decided to pen his thoughts on why, as a nation, which rests of a precipice of political unrest bordering on a complete disintegration of the political and infrastructural fabric, has overlooked the issue of digital and cyber privacy.

Perhaps it is for the reasons stated above which is why as a nation, we feel that issues such as the classification of certain content as, “objectionable” and its subsequent blocking, are not issues worthy of much thought. The country hangs from a thread as political pundits are locked in a vicious battle of words and displays of strength, marching from one city to another, picking up supporters as a snowball rolling down a hill, as the whole country, starves for a semblance of effective leadership. However, we disagree. Presence on a social media platform, or for that matter, being active on the global internet forum automatically implies that an individual must have adequate security tools employed within their systems to ensure that their personal data is not compromised.

Every person who has access to the internet currently has two identities. Their physical identity and their cyber profile which is a series of numbers and now with the advent of social media, a real-life profile. These identities must be protected by both security tools and government legislation to prevent agencies within the Executive fold from abusing the existing infrastructure to conduct surveillance activities. It is not just surveillance that is the cause of concern, but the perspective with which individuals perceive digital security. With the increased presence of social media and online commerce, identities of individuals are at constant risk of theft. Within United States of America itself, identity theft caused $24bn in losses in 2013 alone. Kickstarter, the global fundraising website for entrepreneurial startups was hacked with usernames, mailing addresses, contact details and other sensitive information being obtained by a third party. Kickstarter maintained that credit card information was left untouched which implies that the hackers may have obtained information to users credit card information, but chose not to access it. Tesco, the British multinational retail chain, was forced to suspend more than 2000 customer accounts of its online portal after hackers posted user data online. Snapchat, the picture sharing application suffered a massive security lapse when a website by the name of SnapchatDB.info posted usernames and contact details of over 4.6m users in a bid to spread awareness regarding Snapchat’s evidently weak security infrastructure.

These few examples speak volumes on how lax perspectives towards security and the democratically protected rights towards access to content is being exploited. Coming back towards the not so democratic state of Pakistan, internet activists are neck deep in trying to spread awareness pertaining to how their fundamental human rights are being infringed upon. The fact of the matter remains that the general populace is nonplussed about these rights being denied to them. After all, in the face of the unavailability of the basic amenities of life such as electricity, security and health, questions on whether their activities on Facebook is being catalogued is the most probably the last in the hierarchy of concerns an ordinary Pakistani may have. However, agreed that yes, perhaps given the vast plethora of problems which an ordinary citizen faces, cyber privacy must be given adequate attention. The reason for that is very simple: Pakistan does not have any legislative tools in place for citizen privacy and protection of their activities online. Moreover, with the passage of the Protection of Pakistan Act where any citizen is now being perceived as guilty until proven innocent (a gross violation of the rules of natural justice) and with wide ranging powers being conferred to the law enforcement personnel, a citizen’s online activity may be presented to the Court as evidence substantiating the State’s case.

Why this is startling is simply due to the reason that ordinary citizens feel that their activity online is sacred and without a person’s login details, no person can access sensitive information. However, as was witnessed during the Arab Spring, citizens of different states were convicted simply due to their activity on the social media sphere. What is of utmost important is not the wide ranging tools that a citizen can employ, but our attitudes towards cyber security and the ease with which the Executive is exploiting a citizen’s lax behaviour towards protecting their activities online, a gaping chasm which the Executive is enjoying widening.

I am reminded heavily of the term, “being completely off the grid”. I cannot ignore the overwhelming need to perhaps disable all my social media profiles and have no cyber footprint at all. Perhaps that is the only remedy available to me to protect myself on the web. But alas! Even deactivating my profile on Facebook or my Twitter handle or my Instagram feed is not guaranteed to erase my presence. Under Facebook’s terms and conditions, once i upload data onto their servers, I relinquish my rights of that particular content; It rightfully belongs to Facebook as soon as I click, “Upload.” Once I delete my profile, that content will remain available on Facebook’s servers. Though users to Facebook will not have access to that information, but perhaps Facebook will make that content available to any third party if requested.

It is imperative to change not just the existing data usage policies but our beliefs and our perceptions towards internet security. In the face of political instability and wide disregard of essential freedoms, it is time we take back the internet, a forum which was engineered around the core concept of being a user-governed platform, not a tool for multinational corporations and states to spy. What does indeed scare me, perhaps even more than the security shortcomings of the web, is the relative ease with which the government exploits the fundamental right to privacy. If the government does indeed carry out such blatant violations of the Constitution with such ease, how soon is it that other such violations are carried out by the Government, and the populace remains silent? That day, I fear, may be right around the corner.

Social media now forms an integral part of our life. We trust our intimate secrets to a faceless server and expect that our content, be it pictures, text, or anything else will be protected by the strictest privacy firewalls. We expect that the individual for whom the content is intended, the “audience”, will only be the people we choose to share information with, and no other person or party will be able to view that content. However, the recent Snowden revelations only reaffirmed that our content is far from secure. There had been considerable criticism that Facebook, entrusted with the data of millions of individuals around the globe, was selling user data to advertising companies to make targeted advertising campaigns. Our lives were and continue to be documented, behavioral patterns decoded and other such information being deduced from our online activity. Mark Zuckerburg himself stated in an interview with TechCrunch founder, Michael Arrington, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” The social norm being that privacy is now an outdated concept.

The above notion is debatable as Edward Snowden unleashed a barrage of information which defeated the aforementioned statement regarding privacy. Though the NSA remains the main culprit, have we ever cast the light of the interrogation lamp onto an organization which allows the NSA access to data, organized, efficient, and ripe for spying? A quick reading of the Facebook Data Use Policy confirmed my worst fears. Not only is our content accessible to the organization and stored, but the information we would ordinarily choose not to give out is ‘received’ by the social media giant. The Data Use Policy (which can be accessed here) clearly states:

When you post things like photos or videos on Facebook, we may receive additional related data (or metadata), such as the time, date, and place you took the photo or video.”

Being a law student, I must applaud the apparent ambiguity and the clever draftsmanship of the above statement. The condition does not say with absolute certainty that Facebook will receive the information and that it will be stored. Just that it MAY receive background information pertaining to the content I upload. Moreover, Facebook does not concede that the information that it does receive will be stored and used for an advertising stream, tailored to your activity on the social platform. But for now, I feel a bit at peace knowing that extremely personal information such as my location or my electronic devices is still in my control.

Oh wait.

“We receive data from or about the computer, mobile phone, or other devices you use to install Facebook apps or to access Facebook, including when multiple users log in from the same device. This may include network and communication information, such as your IP address or mobile phone number, and other information about things like your internet service, operating system, location, the type (including identifiers) of the device or browser you use, or the pages you visit. For example, we may get your GPS or other location information so we can tell you if any of your friends are nearby, or we could request device information to improve how our apps work on your device.”

Before I comment on the apparent breach of privacy which this policy entails, I would like to convey my gratitude to Facebook. Thank you for being clear on one aspect: Facebook does indeed collect information, store it and extends the same information to advertisers and vendors to advertise products and services. Facebook has now become a massive catalogue of identities, but a collection of whole individuals whose lives are on social media. This begs the question as to why Facebook must collect this information. By using our location, time, date and other intrinsic information attached to any content that we upload onto the social media platform, we are unknowingly conceding to information that we may not feel comfortable in knowing that we are providing. Perhaps we must read the Terms and Conditions of Facebook before we accept them blindly to succumb to the pressure of having a presence on social media.

It is imperative to note that Facebook receives information every time someone logs onto their profile, the device from which they log in, their IP address and if their device has GPS enabled, their location. But the GPS location is not as important as a person’s exact location can be triangulated by using the IP address from which a person is on Facebook. The social media giant brazenly mentions that through this information, they can tell you if any of my friends are nearby and other information which they’ve categorized as necessary for “the general improvement of Facebook”.

The one thing which caught my eye was the manner in which third parties have the capability to view data. The Data Use Policy clearly states that they sometimes receive information from third party organizations and advertising partners. Essentially, what this implies is that if I were to click on a Facebook ad which lead me to a different website advertising a certain product or service, the data pertaining to me clicking that ad includes, but is not restricted to time and date of the clicking, the location of the ad, and outlay. This information, once received by Facebook is then doctored to ensure maximum clicks.

Some may argue that Facebook is well within their rights to advertise products and/or services depending upon our search history. After all, they are not a charitable organization providing a service. They are in this business to make themselves self-sustaining and to reap profits and the only manner in which they can do that is by leasing out space on their servers to advertisers. However, I personally would feel uncomfortable knowing that every keyword I’ve ever searched with is documented and used to advertise products and/or services. I do not feel comfortable knowing that a nameless and faceless individual within the scores of Facebook employees is aware that I have logged in on my Facebook and am currently reading a colleague’s status on his timeline. I do not feel comfortable with the knowledge that every time I click, “Login”, my IP address and my exact location is stored on the Facebook servers. Perhaps it was through this mechanism of storing IP addresses that individuals preaching anti-state propaganda was apprehended and persecuted in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Perhaps it is through the scores of information available on Facebook servers that the NSA can keep tabs on individuals and their activities online, as their activities on the web are a reflection of their day to day tasks.

The general populace is unaware of something which is completely black and white. I do not feel comfortable knowing that my content, my location and other increasingly personal information is free to be pursued by individuals to whom I have not given consent. Perhaps by agreeing to their terms and conditions and their Data Use Policy, I have conceded to that. However, it was only for the purpose of this article that I bothered to read Facebook’s policies and Community Safety Guidelines. How many other individuals have made the conscious effort to do so? The answer to that would be startlingly few. And that thought, that individuals around us are now being treated as numbers and as data in cyberspace is, quite frankly, scary.

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