No foolproof way to block banned video, says PTA chief

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ISLAMABAD: There is no foolproof way to block access to a video that resulted in the ban on YouTube in Pakistan, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Chairman Dr Ismail Shah. Dr Shah’s statement on Monday came a day before the Lahore High Court hears a petition seeking the court’s directive to the government to allow access to YouTube, blocked since September 2012.

The court will hear a petition filed by Bytes for All, a non-government organisation. The petitioner submitted that any filtering and blocking of information online is counter-productive and predatory. Dr Shah and officials from the ministry of information and technology will appear in court today to give a policy statement on whether the offending video – entitled The Innocence of Muslims – can be blocked.

“The PTA has tried to find a technical solution to block the video while keeping YouTube open, but it is next to impossible and this is what I will inform the court,” said Dr Shah, while addressing the first national 3G/4G seminar, held in Islamabad. The PTA can create a warning page that opens prior to the video, he suggested.

Shah said the video was uploaded on hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPs) – a communication protocol over a computer network which cannot be removed except by blocking the website. Shah will inform the court that the PTA cannot remove the video because of technical obstacles. At the end of the day, he said, the government and court will have to make a decision.

“We have looked into practices in other Muslim countries as well and found that they too could not block the video,” he said. He explained that the video is accessible in Qatar, preceded by a warning, a system that Pakistan could replicate. “Even if it is not available on YouTube, it will be available on other websites,” the chairman said. According to the PTA’s findings, there are 48,000 copies of the video accessible online currently. He explained that the Pakistani government had contacted Google Inc in order to remove the offending video, but was refused.

Dr Shah added that religious scholars had advised him that the government’s current strategy was wrong, prescribing that messages and videos spreading a positive message of Islam should be uploaded to counter negative portrayals.

3G Auction

While bidding for the auction of 3G and 4G licences will take part next month, Dr Shah said he was not confident of any new entrants taking part in the process. He said new entrants were requesting conditions such as a period of one year in which existing bidders should be barred from rolling out 3G services in the market, aimed at allowing new entrants time to gain a foothold in the market. “My assessment is that it will be difficult for a new player to enter the process,” he said.

Express Tribune

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