FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sana Saleem
CEO- Bolo Bhi
Civil Society Demand Transparency From IT Ministry on Proposal for URL filtering and Blocking
On Wednesday, the 22nd of February, the ICT R&D Fund under the Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT), announced through newspapers and on their website, a request for proposal (RFP) for national “URL filtering and blocking system”. As an organization with core focus on policy, we at Bolo Bhi, feel this is worrisome.
In Pakistan, only over 20 million out of 187 million people have access to the internet. Despite limited access the internet has brought positive benefits to Pakistan through economic growth, education, entrepreneurship and cultural sharing. The ICT R&D Fund was developed to further the use of ICTs and promote research in the field. It has been involved in doing that actively and therefore an announcement that is contrary to the progress and development of ICT’s from the same organization, comes as a shock.
At a time when political parties, media, civil society and businesses have been engaging to promote the use of ICT, a national filtering and blocking system will have repercussions.
The proposal invites academia, businesses and researchers to apply. However it is ironic that the decision of taking such an initiative came without consulting either. The ways in which this will affect the state of the internet is deeply worrying. Besides slowing down the internet considerably, it would negatively impact each one of the sectors the proposal wishes to pursue as partners. The proposal mentions that internet in Pakistan is relatively free – that is false. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has been actively involved in blocking and filtering content online and has thus far been successful, under the guidance and direction of the Ministry of IT. We feel that for successful implementation of a policy at all levels, transparency is crucial. We are a functioning democracy and therefore it is important to have stakeholders on board that could guide and assist on a policy before such a decision is made.
We have sent a letter to the Ministry of IT and the CEO of the National ICT R&D Fund, to ensure transparency in the process and answer some crucial questions.
The internet has increasingly become a tool for diplomacy. Countries have used it as a strong tool for PR and others have made use of it to advance tourism, business & economic growth, governance and entrepreneurship. At a time when we as a country are struggling to counter a popular narrative about us, further limiting the sphere would portray us as a grim totalitarian state, which is simply untrue. Elsewhere, we have seen governments supporting the internet and reaping the economic rewards. Malaysia, for instance are focusing primarily on building the internet ecosystem and getting small businesses online — and a recent study by McKinsey found the Internet contributed 4.1% to Malaysia’s GDP. We ought to follow examples of countries like Malaysia that have been effectively using internet and media as a PR tool, and not totalitarian states that continue to function in an information black hole and are seen as just that.
We request the Ministry of IT and the national ICT R&D Fund to reconsider their decision of pursuing such a rigorous filtering and blocking system, for the state of the internet, for businesses, academia, research and the innumerable platforms that will inevitably be affected by this initiative. We don’t believe the internet should be a free for all (criminals, child pornography and scam) ; there are limits to content but a blanket filtering of up to ’50 million URLs’ with no transparency is not the answer. We are a functional democracy and in the presence of stakeholders and experts we demand the ICT R&D Fund and the Ministry of IT consult every sector before moving forward with such an initiative.