Google is sticking to its own vision of freedom of expression - The NEWS Pakistan

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Fouad Bajwa

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Dec 9, 2012, 12:01:34 AM12/9/12
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According to Pakistan's largest English Daily, the News International:

Permanent Link to the Story:
http://jang.com.pk/thenews/Dec2012-weekly/nos-09-12-2012/dia.htm#1
Only valid for today's e-print: http://e.thenews.com.pk/12-9-2012/nos_page9.asp

Virtually blocked - With no breakthrough on YouTube registration in
Pakistan in sight, the authorities affirm the ban will stay
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
After a prolonged spell of suppressed activity, social media websites
in Pakistan suddenly became alive on Dec 3, with endless posts and
tweets about the reopening of YouTube in the country. To many, this
was nothing unexpected as the development had coincided with the
tentative deadline given by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)
Chairman for the removal of the ban. He had told a private TV channel
on November 15 that the Youtube ban may be lifted within 15 to 20
days.

Article:

Virtually blocked - With no breakthrough on YouTube registration in
Pakistan in sight, the authorities affirm the ban will stay
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
refresh - TNS The News on Sunday December 09, 2012
Source: http://jang.com.pk/thenews/Dec2012-weekly/nos-09-12-2012/dia.htm#1

After a prolonged spell of suppressed activity, social media websites
in Pakistan suddenly became alive on Dec 3, with endless posts and
tweets about the reopening of YouTube in the country. To many, this
was nothing unexpected as the development had coincided with the
tentative deadline given by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)
Chairman for the removal of the ban. He had told a private TV channel
on November 15 that the Youtube ban may be lifted within 15 to 20
days.

Popular news channels also broke the news, mostly via tickers, but the
furore was short-lived. Soon afterwards, the PTA sources denied
issuing any such orders and held some service providers responsible
for this discrepancy. Like always, they had no clue of when the ban
was going to be lifted.

The situation to date is that there has not been any development since
the imposition of a blanket ban on YouTube in Pakistan which came into
effect on September 17. The PTA chairman once expressed the hope the
website will be registered in Pakistan, but sources privy to its
communication with Google — the owner of YouTube — say the internet
giant has not given an encouraging response. Having a local presence
in around 40 countries, with some small ones having an internet user
base of only 3 million or so, apparently Google is not desirous of
entertaining Pakistan’s request which has a base of 22 million
internet users.

The question haunting many is whether the authorities have succeeded
or not in getting the desired results with the help of this ban, and
what will be the future course of action if Google does not register
itself here.

Muhammad Nawaz, an IT geek, technologist and academic, says the
government of Pakistan should have signed a contract with Google years
ago as this was not the first time the website had been blocked in
Pakistan. Had it been registered inside Pakistan, it would have been
bound to abide by the local laws issued by the local authorities.

The ban, he says, is of no use as people have found ways to circumvent
it. “Those who want to access YouTube are doing that with the help of
certain softwares, proxy websites and Internet Protocol (IP)
blockers”.

Nawaz says the objectionable trailer of the blasphemous movie that
triggered the ban was blocked in India, Turkey etc. just because they
had country versions of YouTube. “In Turkey, anyone who types
YouTube.com is diverted to YouTube.com.tr but this is not the case
here. There the website has had to comply with the orders of Turkish
courts and has often blocked content such as that related to Kemal
Ataturk.”

On the other hand, a well-discussed Multi-Lateral Assistance Treaty
(MLAT) between Google and Pakistan is pending for well above two
years, mainly due to the lack of interest shown by the PTA and other
related authorities. “What can we expect from the authority which
cannot even block the websites like
https://www.facebook.com/3Gcorruption targetting its own sitting and
outgoing bosses.”

Nawaz points out that a large number of people have been deprived of
the opportunity to do educational research online, access
entertainment-related content, benefit from religious content and
health tips. To elaborate his point, he says, there are between 70,000
to 80,000 students enrolled with the Virtual University (VU) who
access their lectures via YouTube. “Though there’s a compulsion on
cable operators to air VU channels on their networks but hardly anyone
does that. So YouTube is the only option left for them.”

There is another angle to the story which is apparently haunting the
PTA. Fouad Bajwa, an internet rights activist and policy advocate
based in Lahore, observes that in Pakistan the internet policy has
always been based on public demand and defined by norms of public
morality. “The PTA fears that its policy decision to open YouTube may
affect public order as has happened in the form of protests leading to
loss of property and lives in Pakistan”.

Based on his interactions with different stakeholders, Bajwa feels the
government has been under pressure to open the website. “But the
challenge on the other hand is that the Google is not listening to the
government demands to remove or block the objectionable content. I’ve
also heard that Badar Khushnood, the Google representative in
Pakistan, has also failed to convince the Google to do something
acceptable to the Pakistani authorities”.

So right now, the PTA is facing a challenge and has to decide whether
it should open the website or not and, if yes, on what conditions. It
is strongly believed among the internet community that the Google is
sticking to its own vision of freedom of expression, something its
representative expressed at the Internet Governance Forum in Baku
recently.

Google representative Badar Khushnood was not willing to comment due
to the sensitivity of the issue. It was also learnt he is avoiding
media interaction since the day the Interior Minister Rahman Malik
publicly warned of action against him if the Google refused to
cooperate with Pakistan on terrorism-related issues.

Sources say the Google has expressed fears that local registration of
YouTube will compromise the interests of the Pakistani public at the
hands of the state. They add the PTA has offered to follow all the
requirements for local registration, but Google is giving one excuse
or the other every time. The internet giant believes the restoration
of judiciary in Pakistan, the Arab Spring in the Middle East and the
uprising in Iran became successful only because the site was not
subservient to local laws.

So, the option the PTA is working on is to set up a highly advanced
content filtering system which will block the unwanted material and
may also detect use of proxy servers, the sources say, adding “when
will it be possible is a mystery.” This will be a tough task as an
estimated 72 hours of video content is uploaded on Facebook every
minute.

TNS forwarded a questionnaire to the PTA spokesperson Malahat Rab more
than a week ago, but she has still not responded. All we have received
is a statement forwarded on behalf of Sajjad Latif Awan, Director
Enforcement, PTA Headquarters, Islamabad. It says the PTA has not
ordered anybody to open the access of YouTube in Pakistan and there
are reports that some service providers and operators have facilitated
that.

“The PTA has initiated inquiry to check which Service Providers and
Operators have opened the access to YouTube and afterwards stern
actions will be taken against those responsible,” it adds.

--
Regards.
--------------------------
Fouad Bajwa
ICT4D and Internet Governance Advisor
My Blog: Internet's Governance: http://internetsgovernance.blogspot.com/
Follow my Tweets: http://twitter.com/fouadbajwa
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