Formulating Pakistan’s Internet Policy

The need for a clear state policy for the internet is greater today more than ever before due to the increased frequency the state has been exercising its self-appointed blanket authority in regards to the internet. Though in an ideal world a state would realise and understand the vast and dynamic nature of the internet whereby any attempt of control is redundant; a state bent on controls has to be negotiated with to at least agree to a transparent policy that leaves little room for abuse by the state and does not override the rights and interests of the citizens it seeks to govern.

With several websites blocked in Pakistan over the years (see: Content filtration over the years timeline), most notably YouTube for over a year now (see: YouTube ban timeline), and a plan by the State to put in place a URL filtration system, it is important for us as citizens to hold the State accountable for the democratic rights of the citizens it is supposed to safeguard.

For this reason, Bolo Bhi is working to archive the stance of relevant policymakers and public figures within and outside the parliament on issues relating to internet freedom, privacy, censorship, and internet governance in Pakistan. These interviews will serve three fundamental purposes.

Firstly, the video interviews will be publicly available on the internet to inform the citizens on where policymakers, public figures, and experts stand on the issue of internet freedom in Pakistan.

Secondly, these will be used to draft a policy paper that will seek to encourage dialogue and build consensus among the stakeholders on the limits to internet governance.

Lastly, the ultimate goal is three-pronged whereby the aim is to highlight the current procedure that is deployed to block content; to push for an end to ad hoc blocking; and to constitute safeguards that uphold constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression, and the right to privacy as a baseline for any future regulations.

Ideally, this framework should include:

1. Clear specifications on what criteria will be employed to determine the kind of content against which action is to be taken;

2. What the process of warning and penalisation would entail;

3. A transparent record of any steps the government has taken in regards to the internet, along with the reasons for it, available publicly.

[Also see: Internet censorship in Pakistan: need for dialogue, framework, and transparency. Bolo Bhi press release. May 21, 2013)]

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