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Saad Khan

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The Great Firewall of Pakistan

Posted: 10/26/2012 2:12 pm

Pakistan was an exception to the rule. In sharp contrast to general perceptions, Pakistanis were largely able to freely access the Internet. No wonder Fox News reported that Pakistan ranked at the top when it came to countries with the largest number of porn watchers. The ranking was disputed, though, given that it was Fox News that came up with the story. Still, it reflected the freedom of Internet access in Pakistan. Pakistan was also the country with one of the fastest growing cellular markets with an amazingly high penetration. Pakistan is a country where the past is always brighter than the future. Of late, not only the Internet freedoms have been severely curbed but the government has also started blocking cell phone access.

During the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr in August, the entire country had a cellular blackout as the government blocked access on the pretext of stopping terrorism. While the blockage didn't yield any results and the terrorism continues unabated, the big-shots are planning to repeat the exercise on the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha. Between these two months, Pakistanis have spent days without access to cellphone networks.

It has been five weeks since Pakistanis last watched their favorite videos on YouTube. The government seems to have taken advantage of the blasphemous-film-fiasco to tighten its control on Internet access. There are thousands of videos (some hilariously funny) on YouTube mocking the government. The government was irked enough that some ministers suggested blocking access to YouTube. They tried but failed as the government didn't have a concrete reason to do so. It now has. In the form of the blasphemous film.

The opposition has not raised a voice, and understandably so. There are many videos mocking the opposition leaders, as well. At least the opposition benches have found something to agree on with the treasury benches. Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), which is the national regulator of Internet and telephony has launched a massive website-blocking campaign. Dating sites were the first to go and now they are literally looking for anything even remotely related to sex. It does not matter if the website under question deals purely with anatomical jargon and is accessed by the medical community.

Pakistani government has been vocal about its intentions of erecting a "great firewall". It floated international tenders and sought the help of technology giants to accomplish this task. Many pledged to stay away from helping the government in blocking Internet access. Given the pace of Internet curbs in recent months, it seems that the government has found some secret collaborators.

The great firewall has not stopped Pakistanis from accessing their favorite websites. They now use proxy servers for that purpose. It would be better if the government wakes up to the changing realities of the cyber world. An outright banning does not do any good.

 

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