PTA asks govt to block social media websites to curb blasphemous content

Islamabad, July 26, 2019: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Friday told a Senate special committee that the government should either increase the authority’s “technical capabilities” or block social media websites in the country in order to stop the circulation of “blasphemous content”.

While briefing the Senate Special Committee to examine purported grievances, PTA Chairman Major General (r) Amir Azeem Bajwa said: “[Dealing with] blasphemous content on social media is a huge problem. Most of the websites are being operated from other countries.”

“The government should either formulate a policy and block social media websites in the country like China and the United Arab Emirates — [which would mean] developing social media platforms locally like China — or it should increase the technical capabilities of the PTA,” he said.

The PTA chief also suggested that the government should sign mutual legal assistance treaties with other countries so that access to blasphemous content on international social media platforms can be blocked in Pakistan.

Barrister Saif Khan, who was chairing the meeting, asked if the body can “block the revenue” that social media websites — where blasphemous content is posted — earn from Pakistan. He further said that social media platforms, that operate from other countries, should appoint their representatives in Pakistan.

Bajwa told the panel that PTA has blocked more than 39,000 URLs since 2010. The authority also issues awareness ads in order to inform people that sharing blasphemous content is a crime, he added.

He told the panel that the PTA had received 8,500 complaints regarding blasphemous content on the internet but the authority had blocked 40,000 websites.

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It also blocked about 850,000 websites that had pornographic content, Bajwa said. He admitted that websites were being hosted on the dark web in Pakistan, adding that it was “not easy to monitor it”.

The official further said that websites blocked by PTA can be easily accessed through a proxy. He said that the government had instructed the PTA to prepare new rules regarding the usage of social media and the authority will submit them soon.

Barrister Saif said that the rules should apply to content that is blasphemous for any religion. He asked PTA to prepare new rules and assured Bajwa that they will be approved.

Officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) also briefed the committee on the matter and said that currently, the agency’s cybercrime division was probing 12 cases. They said that Facebook and Twitter do not respond to most complaints lodged by FIA.

The officials also informed the panel that the FIA had received 32,000 complaints in the past three years and the agency only had 15 cyber experts on board.

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