The Electronic Frontier Foundation has signed on to a joint statement with a global coalition of organizations to demand the Pakistani Ministry of Information Technology, the Information Communication Technology Research & Development Fund, and the Prime Minister, to publicly commit to stop all efforts to mandate a national Internet filtering and blocking system.
As we've previously covered, the Ministry of IT together with the ICT R&D Fund, publicized a Request for Proposal calling on institutions to design and implement a large-scale URL filtering and blocking system that would automate censorship on a mass scale. We have joined Access Now, ARTICLE 19, Bolo Bhi, Center for Democracy & Technology, Citizen Lab, Global Voices Advocacy, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders in condemning this plan. We urge the government to recognize the potential incalculable damage this could cause the Pakistani economy, and call on the government to uphold values of individual privacy, free speech, and access to information.
The full letter is below.
Addressed to: Ministry of IT, ICT R&D Fund & Prime Minister
This statement is in pursuance of the verbal commitment made by the Secretary IT, Mr Farooq Awan, that the plan for a national URL filtering and blocking system has been withdrawn. We are a group of NGOs – Access Now, ARTICLE 19, Bolo Bhi, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy & Technology, Citizen Lab , Global Voices Advocacy, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders committed to respecting user privacy and access.
As a global community, we actively campaigned to stop the impending firewall and to inform the government and international surveillance companies of the repercussions this will have on academia, businesses, trade, and civil society. As a result, five major international companies known to sell surveillance, filtering, and blocking systems have publicly committed not to apply for the government’s call for proposals.
In Pakistan, only approximately 20 million out of 187 million people have access to the Internet. Despite this, the Internet generates positive benefits for Pakistan through economic growth, education, entrepreneurship, and exchange of culture. The ICT R&D Fund was developed to further the use of ICTs and promote research in the field. An announcement contrary to the progress and development of ICTs from the same organization is disappointing.
While it has become common knowledge that surveillance and censorship technologies are often used in Pakistan, the extent to which this is taking place has only recently become apparent with public reports on censorship and surveillance technologies by a large number of international companies. We also understand the Pakistan government may attempt to involve an academic institution in developing the system, making the biggest victim of this technology also a contributor.
Bushra Gohar, member national assembly, recently informed us of a verbal commitment by Secretary IT, Mr Farooq Awan, that the plan for a national URL filtering and blocking system has been withdrawn. However, no public statement exists.
As members of civil society and organizations committed to ensuring the government upholds democratic principles in Pakistan, and with concerns about restrictions on privacy as well as access to information, we strongly urge the ICT R&D fund of the Ministry of IT to reconsider its decision to filter URLs in Pakistan and make a public commitment that they will not purchase the URL filtering and blocking technology. If the Pakistani government wants to further develop business, innovation, entrepreneurship, trade, and academia, it must realize the adverse effects this filtering system would have on these priorities, and hence, not go ahead with this plan.
- Access Now
- Article 19
- Bolo Bhi
- Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs
- Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT)
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
- Global Voices Advocacy
- Index on censorship
- Reporters Without Borders