Pakistan's Mobile Carriers Delay Ban of 1,700 Words in SMS Messages

After the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority announced a list of nearly 1,695 words to be banned in SMS messages sent via Pakistani cellular networks, Pakistani mobile operators today said they would defer implementing the list until they receive further clarification from the PTA. The government agency released the list on November 14, promptly receiving heavy criticism globally on the country's first attempt to censor text messaging. Although the PTA gave mobile carriers a deadline of seven days to implement the change, cellular companies are hesitating to adhere to a list aiming to eliminate pornography and other offensive material.

Words on the list range from presumed derogatory words such as "fairy" and "fatso" to more religious terms including "Jesus" and "Satan." The International Business Times noted that certain English words on the list were misspelled, meaning the intended word would not be banned in texts. The PTA plans to use anti-spam software to filter out words from the list.

Pakistani human rights organization Bytes For All was a loud critic of the PTA list, arguing against the totalitarian approach the government is taking in order to uphold a standard of social morality and decency. They wrote:

By developing extremely detailed lists of allegedly ‘offensive’ words and forcing telecom operators to filter them out to make our society moral and clean, PTA has not only made a mockery of itself but also of the entire country and its government. Once the authorities are allowed to filter SMS messages to ban abusive words, the restriction shall eventually not be limited to abusive words, rather, further fire the campaign to oppress the society by controlling its access to all kinds of information.

Pakistan Today also criticized the PTA's proposed filtering of text messages, commenting on the futility of SMS censorship:

It is the wrong thing to do because of the perverse idea. As opposed to broadcast content, the sms message is a form of conversation between two individuals. ... As anyone who has put in enough time in a boys’–or, for that matter, girls’—hostel will tell the reader, there is no stopping the deep, intrinsic and indeed primal need of our species to be guttermouthed. An exercise in futility, PTA.

The Washington Post blog recently reported that netizens on the Twittersphere have already reacted to the news comically by creating possible text messages that would be banned under the list. For example, one user tweeted, “My donkey refuses to cart the milk. He is such a bad ass."