How Pakistanis’ internet rights are at stake, and what you can do to reclaim them

CensorshipYou thought the YouTube ban was bad? The Government of Pakistan under the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 is giving itself sweeping powers to remove or block ANY content it deems unfit. As Pakistani citizens, we must resist this move to protect our right to use the internet freely as means of expressing ourselves. [I have quoted Section 34 at the end of the post. This is just one of many problematic clauses of the proposed bill]

For example, here are some of the pretexts under which the Government could remove “issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any intelligence though any information system”:

  1. Glory of Islam:

This could be used as a pretext to remove any content. Which sect? Are the beliefs of one sect of Islam going to take precedence over another’s?

  1. Integrity, security or defence of Pakistan:

Any criticism of the Army could also result in your post or an article being removed or blocked, like in the past Rolling Stones, IMDB, and various other websites have been banned, now it is going to be lawful for them to do so.

  1. Friendly relations with foreign states:

If you are to post against the foreign policy of your own government that you voted for, your post could be removed.

  1. Public order:

If you have organised a protest against a law or policy of the government, and the government thinks that disturbs ‘public order’.

  1. Decency or morality:

Without defining what decency or morality mean, the government could take down any post or article or blog that they judge is indecent or immoral, values that are extremely subjective and should be the judgement call of a reader or the guardians of a minor, not the government.

Pakistan is already amongst the 3 countries in the world with the most take-down requests submitted to Facebook, including ‘criticism of the state’. This is official information from Facebook on take down requests from PTA and Ministry of IT, and this number is likely increase significantly after the PECB 2015 passes:

Number of pieces of content restricted: 1773

We restricted access in Pakistan to a number of pieces of content primarily reported by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Ministry of Information Technology under local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state.

[https://govtrequests.facebook.com/country/Pakistan/2014-H1/]

What you as a citizen of Pakistan can do:

Before the National Assembly passes this bill, please reach out to your public representative that represents your area through text message and inform them that you as a citizen of Pakistan do not accept the draft of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015. The phone numbers of all Members of National Assembly are listed on the National Assembly website for you. Make use of this and become an active citizen like you are supposed to be in democracy so the government does not speak for you and take away your rights. Link: http://na.gov.pk/en/all_members.php

Sample text message to your representative:

Dear <name of MNA>, I as a Pakistani citizen am opposed to the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, especially section 34, as it restricts my freedom to use the internet. Please oppose it for me. Sincerely, <Your name>.

Read the controversial Section 34 of the proposed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015:

34. Power to manage intelligence and issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any intelligence though any information system:

(1) The Authority is empowered to manage intelligence and issue directions for removal or blocking of access of any intelligence through any information system.

The Authority or any office authorised by it in this behalf may direct any service provider, to remove any intelligence or block access to such intelligence, if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement to an offence under this Act.

(2) The Authority may prescribe rules for adoption of standards and procedure to manage intelligence, block access and entertain complaints.

(3) Until such procedure and standards are prescribed, the Authority shall exercise its powers under this Act or any other law for the time being in force in accordance with the directions issued by the Federal Government not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act.

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