Authoritarian regimes around the world have used surveillance to regulate and control public spheres. Western surveillance tools have empowered the repression. We need to stop censorship from being big business. We cannot allow these companies to continue to threaten the open internet and profit from it.
The latest chapter in this episode is Pakistan. This is not an isolated problem, it is global. We have seemingly respectable large multi-nationals profiting by assisting governments in their efforts to censor their people. Last week the IT Ministry of the Pakistan government requested international companies to apply for a contract to bring an extensive URL filtering and blocking system to Pakistan. The IT Ministry already works with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block content, but they now want faster, more comprehensive technology to fully ensure no ‘illegal’ or ‘anti-state’ content can be seen in Pakistan. While the obvious questions are being asked of the Pakistan government , what about the international companies that sell this technology?
The threat to the open internet is not just the governments, but also the companies that are complicit in assisting with censorship. Stories of international companies selling censorship tools to governments have sprung up over the past number of years. The products made by these firms are used to monitor citizens communicating online and to block internet content. Cisco Systems Inc is credited with assisting the Chinese government to build the Great Firewall of China, which now helps to repress over a billion people. More recently in the wake of the Arab Spring we learned of many other companies selling this technology: Nokia – Siemens were found to be selling technology to the Iran government but backed down in the wake of human rights pressure; other companies such as Qosmos, NetApp Inc and Hewlett Packard Co. reportedly sold to Syria and Blue Coat Systems Inc to Tunisia. The list goes on.
The CEOs of international companies that sell filtering technology were asked last week to publicly commit not to apply for this contract by Bolo Bhi, Urdu for ‘speak up’, a Pakistan based civil society organization. They haven’t heard anything back yet.
Should these companies sell this software to the Pakistan government? If you don’t think so, support the public campaign asking them to publicly commit not to do so. In the 90’s Shell suffered hugely following human rights abuses in Nigeria. This is a rare opportunity to pressure companies to publicly commit not to apply for this contract and to ensure global companies adhere to accepted ethical business standards. The Pakistan government deadline for proposals is on Friday, March 2nd.
We all campaigned against SOPA, here’s an opportunity for us to respond as a global audience to stop a China-like Internet model for Pakistan.
Stop the firewall,