Blasphemous content: IT ministry upbeat to lift YouTube ban

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ISLAMABAD: The ministry of information technology was upbeat about lifting the ban on video sharing website YouTube after having finally acquired the ‘missing’ filters to block blasphemous content within days but it seems that the matter will consume more time.

On August 22, State Minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman revealed during a briefing that Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) had helped to provide filters through which over 4,000 URLs containing blasphemous content were blocked.

The test run of filters did yield results and the ministry was hopeful to convene the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) meeting within a week so that the matter regarding opening of YouTube be taken up for an approval. However, the test run is still in process and the IMC has not been convened.

“The IMC meeting has not been convened yet,” said the ministry spokesperson Kamran Ali Khan while talking to The Express Tribune. Responding to a question, he said “the test run [of the filters] is going on and the IMC meeting would be convened once there are desirable results.”

Claining that the meeting would take place in the near future, spokesperson did not give any dates.

The former information technology secretary was transferred and Akhlaq Ahmed Tarar was given this position last week. So Since it is the IT secretary who chairs the IMC meeting, it will take some time for the new secretary to get acquainted with the issue. This can further postpone the meeting.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had earlier estimated that it would cost $10 million to place filters to block blasphemous content on the internet. It was claimed that there were eight million URLs that contained the blasphemous material.

After having found the mechanism [filters], the PTA was supposed to put it in place and establish a call centre with toll free numbers and email address so that people could report if blasphemous content was uploaded to any URL. The PTCL had provided the filters needed to block the sacrilegious material free of cost.

YouTube was blocked on September 2012, by the IT ministry on the direction of IMC following release of a blasphemous movie that reputed violent protests across the country.

The IMC, constituted by the prime minister in 2006, has the mandate to evaluate and restrict offensive online content in Pakistan. The committee is headed by the IT secretary and has representation from different ministries, including religious affairs and interior, including other agencies.

The IMC had made the decision last September after evaluating the circumstances, and concluded that PTA should block YouTube till further orders. Subsequently, the IT ministry ordered PTA to block the websites. A policy directive was also issued by the ministry in May 2012 to PTA to deploy a state of art solution to block blasphemous and pornographic websites.

State Minister Anusha Rehman had said in a briefing that PTA had failed to implement the ministry’s directive. The reason she gave was that the PTA fell under the Cabinet Division and not the administrative control of the IT ministry.

Express Tribune

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