EFF is pleased to see that Websense, a company that produces Internet filtering technology, has issued a statement against Pakistan’s call for proposals [PDF] for companies to assist with their pervasive censorship plans. Websense’s statement, posted on their website also calls upon other producers of filtering technology to refuse complicity with Pakistan’s plans, which run counter to the right to free expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As we wrote last week, the Pakistan Telecommunications Agency (PTA) already censors numerous websites, including those related to minority groups and human rights. The Request for Proposals (RFP) issued in February would expand the censorship regime to enable the blocking of up to 50 million URLs without delays in processing.
Websense was criticized in 2010 after its products were found to have been used by the government of Yemen, but the company quickly responded by issuing a policy against the sale of their wares to foreign governments. In 2011, Websense also became the first company of its type to join the Global Network Initiative (GNI), of which EFF is also a member.
In addition to Websense, the GNI, numerous international groups, and local organizations such as Bytes for All and Bholo Bhi have stated their opposition to the RFP, and an editorial in the Express Tribune called the plan "usurpation of Internet freedom." The international Business and Human Rights Centre is encouraging those concerned sign a petition calling on companies not to bid on the RFP.
Though Websense should be commended for its stance, there are dozens more companies that would be more than happy to make a bid to the PTA. Corporate giant Cisco, McAfee’s SmartFilter, and Canadian company Netsweeper all knowingly sell their wares to foreign governments, and they’re undoubtedly not the only ones.
This complicity with pervasive government censorship must stop. EFF calls on the myriad companies producing Internet filtering software not to take part in what Bytes for All has called Pakistan’s “cold-blooded murder of the Internet.” We further encourage companies to follow Websense’s example and take a stand against government-imposed censorship by joining the Global Network Initiative or adopting their own standards (we recommend our “Know Your Customer” guidelines).