PTA Blocks Over 1.25 Million URLs for Objectionable Content, SHC Told | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

PTA Blocks Over 1.25 Million URLs for Objectionable Content, SHC Told

Pakistan Press Foundation

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has blocked more than 1.25 million URLs for containing objectionable content, the telecom sector regulator reported to the Sindh High Court (SHC) on April 16.

The PTA provided a comprehensive breakdown of the blocked content: the majority contained indecent or immoral material, followed by content threatening Islam, national security, and content promoting sectarian hate speech. Other reasons for blocking URLs included defamation, the use of proxy sites, and contempt of court.

The report came as part of the PTA’s response to a petition challenging the proliferation of “objectionable, unethical, immoral, and unlawful” content on social media platforms. The telecom authority disclosed that among the 1,253,522 URLs blocked, 988,659 were removed for indecent and immoral content, 90,980 for content against the glory of Islam, 84,130 for content that posed threats to the security and defence of Pakistan, 52,787 for spreading sectarian hate speech, 10,363 for defamation and impersonation, 10,252 for using proxies, 9,366 for various other reasons, and 6,985 URLs for contempt of court.

The PTA also provided a breakdown of the blocked URLs by platform: 139,415 Facebook links, 98,597 Tiktok links, 50,975 YouTube links, 18,123 Instagram links, 5,184 SnackVideo links, 4,285 links from Bigo and Linkee, and 550 Dailymotion links. The remaining 887,435 were miscellaneous.

The regulator explained that blocking these URLs is an “ongoing exercise,” and it has to keep the database updated by frequently verifying and re-verifying the content. Currently, the PTA is maintaining a record of around 1.34 million URLs, with 71,722 still accessible. Requests to block 16,122 URLs were rejected for various reasons.

The hearing in the SHC was part of an ongoing case in which some YouTube content creators pleaded that objectionable, unethical, immoral and unlawful content was being uploaded on social media platforms. 

A two-judge SHC bench, headed by Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi provided a copy of the PTA’s response to the petitioners’ lawyer. The PTA also challenged the maintainability of the petition, claiming that the petitioners did not initially approach the authority with their concerns, and when requested to share specific URLs of objectionable content, they did not comply.

Following the hearing, the deputy attorney general requested additional time to seek instructions from other respondents, including zonal directors and the FIA’s cybercrime wing, leading to an adjournment until May 15.

Usman Farooq, representing the petitioners, argued that the PTA possesses clear authority under the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (2016) and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules, 2021, to remove and block content deemed vulgar or unlawful. He expressed concern that the PTA has not exercised this authority with sufficient urgency and requested the SHC to issue directives mandating the blocking of objectionable content. He further stressed the harmful impact of such content on social and cultural norms, as well as its violation of Islamic principles.

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