Letter: Ministry of IT & ICT R&D Must Respond To Netizen’s Concern Over Internet Censorship

Manager Administration,
ICT R& D Fund
6th Floor, HBL Tower,
Jinnah Avenue,
Blue Area, Islamabad.

Ministry of Information Technology,
Evacuee Trust Complex,
F-5/1, Islamabad

Dear Sirs,

This is with reference to the request for proposal for national “URL filtering and blocking system” that ICT R&D fund, under the Ministry of Information Technology, announced through newspapers and on their website. In response to the proposal, Bolo Bhi along-with other human rights organization had issued a letter on 23rd of Febuarary’2012.

On Monday, the 19th of March, the Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) confirmed to Member National Assembly Bushra Gohar, that plans for an Internet URL filtering & blocking system have been withdrawn. BoloBhi issued a press release on the same day calling on the MoIT to confirm the censorship plans had been withdrawn and approached the MoIT office on April 9th  for an appointment  Secretary MoIT Farooq Awan. However, we did not receive a response.

 On the 17th of April 2012, seven individuals from  the civil society represented by Advocate Haider Waheed approached  filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court the intention of the said petition was to bring the entire process under judicial review to ensure its fairness, transparency, to prevent ad hoc blocking, to provide a proper system of redress of the parties owning these websites and forums and protect the fundamental rights of the public at large, including internet users, in Pakistan. Our constitutional petition was accepted and an interim stay order was issued to PTA and MoiT.

As an organization with core focus on policy, we at Bolo Bhi, raised our concerns over the proposal and engaged with the MoIT and ICT R&D fund and were delighted to hear government’s decision to shelve the plans. Now news reports suggests that the plans for URL filtering and blocking system have resurfaced. This is extremely worrying.

We are concerned how this kind of filtering will affect the state of the internet in Pakistan. We have taken all measures possible to inform all stakeholders about the repercussions of such a system. We strongly feel we have the right to demand answers:

  • Who is in the team responsible for enabling the filtering criteria? The prerequisites suggest a site may be blocked; Were the pros and cons of URL filtering weighed out? Why weren’t all stakeholders taken into confidence and sought for discussion before this decision?
  • Has the following been considered:
    • The Sindh High Court stay order declaring ad hoc blocking unconstitutional citing Articles 4, 9, 10-A, 18, 19, 19A, 20 and 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973.
    • The proposal details in great length how ICT R & D fund would like the filter to function, however it fails to mention any details regarding counter checks, damage to infrastructure, impact on business running solely through the internet?
    • How does this impact researchers and academics and partner companies of the fund? The fund seeks to outsource filtering to international firms, that at the risk of giving more access to international organizations than Pakistanis themselves. Have the issues of privacy and right to information been considered?
    • It appears through the proposal that the fund seeks to imitate what is commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”, how much money is the fund willing to invest in this? why the need to invest in limiting the scope of the internet while we direly need to invest in advancing it?

We would like you to reconsider your decision of pursuing such a 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 look forward to your response.Yours Sincerely
Sana Saleem
Bolo Bhi

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