21st August 2013, Karachi: According to media reports (tickers on news channels), Ministry of Information Technology has released a statement stating they have resolved the issue of the YouTube ban by installing filters. Reports indicate that this filter has been provided by PTCL to MoITT “for free, for one year.” The filters, according to the statement, have already been “tested successfully.”
If this is indeed the case, the Ministry has dealt a huge blow to rational discourse on the issue – which, it must be pointed out, is still ongoing and being discussed in court.
Pursuing filters display a clear disregard of the discussion held to date on the matter in court. While members of MoITT and PTA have attended the hearings, nobody from the IMCEW (Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites) or decision-making ranks of MoITT have presented themselves in court. The Minister and Secretary IT have both been called to attend hearings, twice, yet have excused themselves. It is important they participate and pay heed to what has been discussed during the course of the hearings, which discourages state-level filtering, points out its demerits and the futility of it.
The solution does not lie in filters. Introducing filters to reopen one platform will do more harm than good. The dangers of content filtering – especially of HTTPS traffic – have been highlighted repeatedly.
The concerns centered on breach of secure communication and user privacy. It must be understood that HTTPS traffic – which is encrypted – cannot be blocked unless a session is intercepted and unencrypted. Typically this is done through a man-in-the-middle attacks. This means, while messages are in transit, on their way to the intended recipient, someone in the middle (here most likely at the ISP or gateway level) breaks open the communication and alters it. This is often done by masquerading as the intended recipient.[Please See Our Resources – Dangers Of Content Filtering, Bolo Bhi’s Submission In Court, Content Filtration Over the Years ]
These measures then do not remain limited to just ‘objectionable content’ only, but extend to all HTTPS traffic and sessions, which include emails, banking etc. Think what happens to e-banking or credit card transactions online. Filtering also paves way for active monitoring and surveillance.
It is pertinent to remember that the Ministry of IT had decided to shelve plans to install a National URL Filtering System last year after a rigorous campaign by local and international civil society organizations, academics, business, human rights groups, entrepreneurs, journalists and even companies that sell surveillance and filtration equipment.
We as a civil society organization geared towards researched backed advocacy for policy change express great concern over the steps taken by the Ministry of IT, despite multiple attempts at informing the court, the Ministry and the public at large regarding the abuse of URL Monitoring, Filtering & Blocking System. The danger, as also pointed out by a Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) official in the ongoing court hearing regarding the YouTube ban, is that tampering with HTTPS traffic will have a detrimental effect on commerce and industry.
It is puzzling how the Ministry claims it has successfully tested such a system, when only recently PTA gave in writing to court that no system in Pakistan exists capable of filtering HTTPS traffic.
By deciding to proceed with its plans of installing filters, the Ministry of IT, through this decision has blatantly ignored fundamental rights of citizens, the extensive discussion regarding the dangers of filtering technology and the larger debate on due process currently taking place in courts.
We urge the Ministry of Information Technology:
- To bring clarity on the media reports
To respect the constitutional rights of citizens of Pakistan
To appear in court as has been required of the Minister and Secretary IT
To engage with stakeholders and the court on this issue
To disable the filters immediately
To make informed decisions, keeping all stakeholders on board in the future
We urge PTCL:
Not to provide these filters to the Ministry of IT given the human rights implications
To disable these filters in light of human rights implications
To follow the United Nations Principles of Business & Human Rights
- To take note and implement “know your customers” policy guide by the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Bolo Bhi means ‘Speak up’, in Urdu. We are a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, legislation, Internet freedom, digital security, privacy and empowerment. We, at Bolo Bhi, 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, in a way that is mutually beneficial.
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