Don’t Make Localization a One-Stop Shop for Censorship

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11/12/13 Karachi: According to media reports, Minister for IT Anusha Rehman has informed the Senate Standing Committee on IT that efforts are underway to prepare an ordinance that will enable a localized version of YouTube in Pakistan. After remaining disengaged from court proceedings on the YouTube case at the Lahore High Court, the announcement of a hasty ordinance for an already prolonged issue is a problem, not a solution.

According to the article, the Minister stated that PTA is currently drafting an ordinance that would provide intermediary liability protection to Google/YouTube thereby not holding the company responsible for what users choose to upload to the platform.  Once this protection has been extended, Google/YouTube can proceed to set up a .pk domain after which, according to the Minister: “Google will easily be able to block blasphemous content on the request of the Pakistan government.”

While intermediary liability protection should exist for Internet platforms the way it exists for ISPs, however, localization, which may eventually happen but  if it does in the current policy/legal environment would mean the following:

  • For localization, the company would either launch a country-level domain or register itself in Pakistan for local laws to even apply to it

  • The Interministerial Committee (IMC) – i.e. government ministries and agencies – would be empowered to direct content removal notices to YouTube.com.pk (i.e. the company directly)

  • The version of YouTube made available to Pakistanis would be one vetted by the government based on its notions of what is permissible content or not, rather than what end users decide to view

This raises the following questions:

  • Will the ordinance be tailor-made to strengthen the content removal and access denial process – why is it not open to public input?

  • Why is PTA, a regulatory authority that deals with enforcement and not policy making, being asked to draft the ordinance?

  • If filtering is suddenly not a viable option, what has happened to the filtering equipment reportedly procured by PTCL and given to the government for a year?

In its response to the court submitted through the Ministry of IT, Google stated intermediary liability protection would be a primer but not guarantee for localization. Then why is the Ministry projecting a view as if the deed has been signed and sealed? This is also inconsistent with court proceedings, as the court had long moved on from localization to seeking other, more rights friendly solutions.

Instead of employing a participatory approach and presenting its plan of action in a public courtroom where citizens are also privy to proceedings, the Ministry chooses to address the YouTube issue and other Internet policy issues behind closed doors.  The Minister and Ministry officials have repeatedly been contacted to apprise them of  civil liberties and fundamental rights that should not be neglected in policy-making, yet no heed has been paid. Unless clear and strong protections for citizens’ right to access are laid down, any legislation pertaining to communications and technology will be counterproductive and a huge setback to civil liberties in Pakistan.

If – as has been maintained in the past – the Minister has been misquoted, will the Ministry issue an official account and explain what it intends to do?

Contact: info@bolobhi.org

Bolo Bhi means ‘Speak up’, in Urdu. We are a not-for-profit  registered under the Societies Act XXI of 1860. Bolo Bhi is geared towards gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy. We are a team of individuals with diverse backgrounds who are passionate about the same causes and believe it is crucial to bridge the gap between rights advocates, policy makers, media and citizens. It is by bridging this gap that one can move ahead to chart a way forward and resolve issues through consensus.

Relevant resources:

Timeline: YouTube Case Updates

Bolo Bhi’s Submission to Court – Perspective on intermediary liability and concerns about localization

Google’s Submission to Court

To Block or Not to Block – What happened in court

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