LHC to hear IT minister on issue
LAHORE: Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court has directed the Federal Minister of Information and Technology and Inter-Ministerial Committee secretary to appear in person and explain their views about banning controversial stuff on the internet as the matter to be first tackled by the government through a robust and transparent Internet Policy.
The judge was hearing a petition against the ban imposed on access to YouTube which is run by Google.
A representative of the ministry told the court that in response to a previous order, the Google Asia Pacific had responded through an email on July 2 last, addressing to the member (legal) of the ministry.
The judge recalled an observation made regarding Google for not responding to the order of this court.
The ministry’s official said Google in its email indicated that any offensive or controversial website carried a warning which states that “viewer discretion is advised”.
Justice Shah observed that a possible solution could be that such sites were ignored as “we move on to search for more productive and useful information on the net.” He said at the end of the day it was a policy issue and it was for the government of the day to take up a position on the internet policy of the country keeping in view the constitutional, cultural and social norms of the people.
The information over the web could not be effectively blocked, therefore, any policy to be framed by the government must keep in mind this hard fact, the judge remarked.
It was also pointed out to the court and accepted by the departmental representatives that in reality YouTube could be accessed in Pakistan by even a schoolgoing kid. “Even today phonographic and controversial films are accessible in Pakistan over the internet.”
The judge observed that the statement made by the ministry that YouTube had been banned, did not carry much weight and at best passed for a political statement to appease the uninformed segment of our society.
Justice Shah further remarked that in the present digital age, information over the internet could not be blocked but could be intelligently regulated. “There are no borders or walls that can limit information from flowing into Pakistan unless of course we shut down internet completely and severe our links with the outside world,” the judge said and added a sustainable answer to the problem was self-regulation at the individual and household levels.
The judge observed that the World Wide Web had all sorts of information ranging from ‘very useful’ to ‘outright offensive’, therefore, the choice was of the viewers. “They can either draw upon the useful information for national development or fall prey to the negative content and immerse ourselves into moral and cultural chaos,” he said.
Some experts also appeared before the court and opined that the “complaint driven” strategy adopted by the ministry needed to be seriously revisited. They said the public needed to be candidly informed that answer to the problem did not lie in generating false hope that controversial websites could be blocked but in taking up the issue head on and by evolving a code of self-regulation for ourselves based on our cultural and religious sensitivities.
The judge adjourned further hearing till Aug 2 and directed the federal minister and secretary to appear and explain their viewpoints.