Rs3 billion cost impedes YouTube restoration?
ISLAMABAD: Universities and research institutes across the country as well as million of students remain deprived of essential educational contents available on YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing website, as the government is unwilling to spend Rs3 billion required to install filters for blocking the blasphemous and offensive contents on the website, The News has learnt.
According to sources, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had informed the government that installation of filters to block blasphemous content would cost around US$30 million (Rs3 billion) but the ministry of information technology sites financial constraints. As a result, the sources said, the website may remain blocked for indefinite period.
Sources said the Internet filters, proposed by PTA, are already functioning successfully in Saudi Arabia where users can freely access YouTube.
Pakistan is the only country in the world where the world’s largest video-sharing website has been blocked since September 17, 2012 following countrywide violent protests over a blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslim”.
Both government and PTA claim that the filter system will not ensure 100% blocking of the offensive content as some users would still be able to dodge the system. But the education experts believe that even without complete blocking of the content, the website can be restored if the government could bear the cost of filters.
They said if the offensive content could be blocked with 80-90% success, it would not be a bad option considering the negative effects of the ban on YouTube on Pakistani students and other users who remain deprived of valuable training and educational material.
Soon after coming to power in June 2013, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government had promised to restore YouTube for the benefit of million of students and other Pakistanis who use the website for educational and entertainment purposes.
On August 23 minister of state for IT and telecommunication Anusha Rehman claimed that reopening of YouTube “is just a matter of a few days” as her ministry had devised a technical solution in collaboration with PTCL to block the blasphemous content on the website. That has not happened so far and the Pakistanis have resorted to using proxies and other means to access YouTube illegally.
According to PTA sources, the government had indeed sought a report from PTA in mid-2013 about the installation of filters to unblock YouTube in Pakistan without blasphemous and offensive content.
In response the authority sent a detailed report to the government informing it that the system will cost Rs3 billion.
The PTA report also mentioned that the filters will not be able to ensure 100% removal of the blasphemous content from the website owing to the fact that the content is user generated and some users may upload the same material with different names to trick the system.
“The filters work on some commands and some key words but if the users avoid those trigger-words, the system may not be able to stop them,” said an official of PTA requesting anonymity. He mentioned an incident where the offensive clip was uploaded on YouTube as part of a famous Pakistani movie “Khuda ke liyay”.
The PTA report also warned the government that installation of filters might also slow the Internet speed across the country.
On the other hand, the government is denying that the cost of filters is the only reason for continuous ban on YouTube.
When contacted by The News, a spokesman of the ministry of information technology did not provide any date for the restoration of the website.
“Since the PML-N government took over a number of efforts have been made to find a technical solution to removing the objectionable content/material from viewing in Pakistan,” the spokesman said.
He said the matter regarding evolving a joint strategy for blocking controversial content from YouTube was discussed with private sector experts technical committee constituted by the division bench of Lahore High Court.
“However, there was consensus among the private sector technical experts, technical experts of PTA and the ministry of information technology that currently no known technical solution is available that can ensure 100% blocking of the controversial content from YouTube.”
The spokesman said the subject has also been addressed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which is currently under review of the National Assembly’s standing committee for IT and Telecom.