Quagmire on banning of free phone mobile applications
LAHORE: Pakistan is among the 10 worst countries of the world with reference to freedom of social media internet websites, according to a study titled “Freedom on Net 2013” conducted by an American organisation, Freedom House, in 60 countries of the world in the period of May 2012 and April 2013.
Here, a much-discussed issue remains the ban on YouTube. Pakistan had imposed ban on YouTube after an anti-Islamic video was posted online in September 2012. The conservative religious activists supported this ban, whereas the liberal progressive forces were in favour an intellectual response to such evil designs. The nation is still divided, while the case is pending in the superior court awaiting its fate.
In the latest development, another ban on social media is in the offing. Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon announced at a press conference followed by a meeting of a law and order committee, that the decision was an effort to curb the capability of terrorists to communicate, plan and coordinate evil activities. Therefore, they decided to block access mobile applications such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber for three months.
In this era of social media revolution the idea of imposing ban on popular mobile applications and websites is not at all welcomed. Those who earned a livelihood through such platforms have become staunch critics of this decision.
The provincial government believes that terrorists have become adept to use social media and free telephone services, thus switching their communication channels from mobile phones to web-based smartphones. Shockingly the interior minister doesn’t have any other solution to this problem even in this advanced era when tracing and tabbing terrorists planning and communication through various means have become the focus of intelligence agencies, the world over. A lot of reach spending is made in this field every year in the developed parts of the world.
Apparently this announcement seems not mature and lacked point of view of IT experts and intelligence agencies, who never suggested taking such steps in the past. However, former interior minister Rehman Malik was fond of taking such steps and remained a centre of mass criticism on special occasions such as Eid, Moharram, etc.
Taking a practical step following their announcement, the Sindh government has sent a letter to the federal government requesting to grant them permission for this ban through the relevant authority, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
Interestingly, the provincial law and order meeting was attended by Sindh IG, Rangers DG, chiefs of intelligence agencies, and senior officials to review operation against criminal elements in Karachi.
In another development, Bilawal Bhutto supported the decision of his provincial government. “I’d rather lose an app than another life,” he said in a tweet.
Our Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, however, said he was not in favour of such a ban.
Skype and Viber users have become harsh critics of the provincial government, and the issue ignited a hot debate on social media. Those who teach on Skype and earn a livelihood are being deprived of their bread. Others argued, rather sarcastically, that since the terrorists also use public transport, the government should also put a ban on buses and rickshaws. Everything has both negative and positive uses, and the communication technology, whatever it is, has a history of negative and positive use.
The social media consumers demand freedom of speech and expression, and a majority of them are against such a ban. They believe this is inability of law enforcement agencies to deal with criminals, and instead of getting the ways and means to trace terrorists through these channels of communication, the government’s suggestion, or in fact an announcement, to ban free telephone sites was not a welcomed idea.
Our federal as well as the provincial governments need to make a uniform policy in this regard. We need to follow the footsteps of advanced parts of the world; how they deal with such criminals, and instead of banning such sites, they should use them to catch the criminals.
Here the question arises, how is this possible? Definitely, through sharing of technology and expertise with the developed world. Our neighbouring country, India, is ahead of us in technology. Like trade deals with, we can collaborate in IT, and we learn from their experiences.
Pakistan needs to focus on research funding on social media technology; closing your eyes close to the evil cats like a pigeon is not the solution. Because, in any case, the cat will attack the pigeon! We need to keep our eyes open to social media contents and communication instead of fleeing from it and closing our eyes in the form of a ban.
This is high time to create a talent pool by producing social media controlling and surveillance. This could be in the form of youth graduating in IT, while the rest of the expertise and training can be borrowed from the advanced world!