At Bolo Bhi and Digital Rights Foundation we have had a long-standing commitment to working alongside the Freedom Online Coalition on the principles and commitment to fight restrictions on the internet. We believe that forums like Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) are important in engaging with Governments and following up on our commitment to open and secure internet.
It is, therefore, crucial that the multistakeholderism committed to by FOC is true to its values and it does not become a whitewash.
In 2012, through the Citizen Lab report, Bolo Bhi learnt that Pakistan Telecommunications Limited (PTCL; a majority state owned company) had deployed Netsweeper, a Canadian-based filtering technology across its vast network. On the 12th of February, 2012, we wrote to Netsweeper seeking an answer as to why they are selling their product to the government they understand will abuse it. We did not receive a response from Netsweeper, but seven other companies namely Websense, Sandvine, Verizon, Cisco, McAfee, Huawei & ZTE responded to our request.
On the 23rd of July 2013, Bolo Bhi wrote a communique to the Canadian High Commission seeking for the relevant Canadian authority to request Netsweeper to reply to our earlier communications, however, the Canadian High Commission in their response refused to engage our request, diverted the issue to local laws and merely reiterated their desire for open communication and online freedom.
We fully commit to the agenda of the Freedom Online Coalition; “to facilitate a global dialogue about the responsibilities of governments from around the world in pro-actively furthering freedom on the internet.” However, in order to ensure those aims are met, members of the Freedom Online Coalition must ensure a greater level of transparency and accountability.
If a Canadian company is providing Pakistan Telecommunications Limited with a method to curb internet freedom within Pakistan, as a stakeholder in Freedom Online Coalition and as a State that has always displayed commitment to ensuring free speech, Canada should play a central role in ensuring Netsweeper shows a level of accountability and transparency in its dealings. A refusal to engage us on behalf of both Netsweeper and the Canadian government does not bode well for the future of our attempts to promote free speech and governments must make an active stand ensures online freedoms are not hampered by their own companies in the developing world.