Pakistan Halts Plans to Install Censoring System

The Pakistani government announced that it would stop plans to install a URL blocking system on the country's Internet network. National Assembly member Bushra Gohar told the press that the Ministry of Information Technology had withdrawn its decision about the firewall system after "various stakeholders" voiced concern about the proposed plans to block entire lists of websites publishing objectionable content. Furthermore, Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, said that the government should "put on hold the set-up of the filtering system, and ensure that the measure does not end up institutionalising internet censorship and surveillance. The decision on what content should be blocked must not be left to the whims of bureaucrats. An independent judicial body should determine the necessity and justification for blocking a particular website to prevent arbitrary restrictions."

Previously, the government sought to implement more censoring measures on the Internet before the country's national elections take place next year. In public Pakistani ads, the regime wrote that the new system would block a list of up to 50 million URLs with, at most, a 1 millisecond delay.

Critics are still holding their breaths to see if the decision's reversal stays permanent. Said Mike Rispoli, a spokesperson for Access, an advocacy organization, "While these reports are promising, there is still a possibility that the Pakistani government could try to covertly implement a similar system." Charles Cooper of CNET notes that although the plan has been scrapped, it remains unknown which and how many American software firms competed for the contract to implement the system in Pakistan, an issue that has stirred up controversy in Silicon Valley. The free speech advocacy group Bolo Bhi celebrated the decision's reversal "cautiously," writing on their site that although this act is an improvement to free expression in Pakistan, "We fear the government could continue with their plans covertly, in a similar fashion to how they’ve censored Pakistan’s Internet for years."