Keeping the Internet Open for All in Pakistan
By Samina Naz
In Pakistan, as in many countries, the internet is not open equally to everyone. By blocking online access and threatening users’ privacy, the government tries to curb freedom of expression.
Bolo Bhi is a civil rights group that advocates for government transparency, internet access, and digital security and privacy. As Sana Saleem, the group’s director, discusses in the video above, their recent work has focused on fighting Pakistan’s draconian cybercrime law, which grants sweeping powers to regulators to block private information they believe to be illegal. The law’s vague language could lead to unfair prosecutions and curbs on freedom of expression, and empower regulators to interpret the details of the law as they see fit.
Over the last few years, internet censorship in Pakistan has reached new heights. State- and court-mandated bans on web content have contributed to a surge in online moral policing. In 2012, an internet firewall erected by the Pakistan Telecom Authority banned thousands of key search words. The government has since claimed it is reviewing the prohibition, but censorship in one form or another has continued to erode speech and privacy rights.
We need to generate sustained and collaborative advocacy for an open internet. Citizens and civil society must raise awareness of digital rights and fair communication governance policies. Until we speak up against the moral policing and ad hoc blocking of online content, authorities in Pakistan will continue to justify their efforts to censor speech and invade people’s privacy.