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Google, Yahoo, BBC, CNN and Others Websites Blocked in Pakistan as PTCL Fumbles a Censorship Extravaganza

Posted on March 7, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Law & Justice, Science and Technology, Society
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Adil Najam

Censorship is never a good idea. When mixed with over-zealousness it becomes dangerous. And when combined with technical incompetence, it becomes costly.

This is what happened when the self-styled defenders of the nation’s morals, ideology and integrity began messing a little too much with things they should never have messed with in the first place. The result was that for a period of four days, major websites and email services – including google.com, download.com, Microsoft.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, BBC, CNN, Systematic, Akamai, PC World, MTV, Best Buy, Logitech, ESPN and many others – remained blocked in Pakistan.
According to a recent report in The News:

In trying to abide by the Supreme Court order of filtering certain websites containing blasphemous content “at all costs", the PTCL blocked access to thousands of vital websites and email servers on February 28. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had passed on the same orders to the PTCL for action and denial of access to such derogatory websites. While the PTA directions are binding for a service provider, the implementation details are left to the management of PTCL, who went for an overkill by blindly blocking the Internet Protocol addresses en bloc instead of filtering the content on questionable websites….

For the past four days, the whole system had collapsed and owing to the routing and blocking flaws resulted in sporadic and random outage of the key websites. Simple websites which are not on the Akmai (and other domains mentioned) also remain affected. According to some observers, the whole system crawled to perhaps 30 per cent to 40 per cent of capacity. Sources said, “Since the PTCL did not have a proper anomaly detection system in place and their technical people were not empowered appropriately to inform the chain of command, the disaster-like situation could have been averted."

The affected websites included google.com, download.com, Microsoft.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, BBC, CNN, Systematic, Akamai, PC World, MTV, Best Buy, Logitech, ESPN amongst hundreds of thousands other. Over the past four days, emails of Internet-users through web-based servers remained blocked which had been disappearing in the cyberspace. The mid-level PTCL techies have been brushing the issue under the carpet and sleeping over it. “Whenever a complaint is lodged, the PTCL officials are found in a denial mode," said a top IT professional, working at the Software Technology Park II. In his emails to the industry, a PTCL official has been denying receiving any complaint about delay or packet drop received from other customers. The same PTCL official, in his mass email, admitted, “Some of AKAMAI server Internet Protocols (IPs) got blocked as a consequence of directives to block obnoxious/objectives. This may be the cause of slow browsing because single website links are hosted on different IPs."

By the way, the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) is now privatized and owned by fancy-shamancy Etisalat from the Middle East.

The News report goes on to say that "The News learnt from an assortment of leading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other IT-dependent businesses that such companies have suffered 20 to 30 per cent revenue loss over the past five days. The ISPs have been the worst hit as the outage of websites was directly proportionate to the use of Internet, thus slashing their businesses."

By way of update, blogger TeethMaestro has this to say:

As of now (March 5) PTCL has withdrawn all filters and one can easily browse all the censored domains, but I suspect once the issue is rectified i.e the big name companies have been pacified, it would not be long before the blogspot ban is resumed to its usual old self. I sincerely hope for the umpteenth time that some is actually listening or maybe someone with deeper pockets has the will to take them to court (i.e to hell and back) to ensure the PTA behaves itself.

iFaqeer, another long-time activist for the issue is similarly outraged. Of course, behind all of this is the Blog Ban that has been in place for more than a year now. the recent Don’t Block The Blog press release presents the essentials on the background:

The PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) initially blocked access to the blogspot domain on the 3rd of March 2006, due to a Supreme Court decision dated 2nd March 2006 instructing the PTA to ban 12 offending websites which highlighted the blasphemous cartoons on the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In adherence to the Supreme Court ruling, all 12 sites were blocked including one that was hosted on the blogspot domain. But rather than block the offending blogspot website, the PTA blocked the entire domain (www.blogspot.com) which happens to be one of the most popular blog hosting domains hosting upwards of 8 million blogs globally, according to some estimates.

Since then, other popular blogging and related platforms have been targeted by our zealous IT-wallahs and all indications suggest that things will get worse rather than better as the censorship toys at the command of these bureaucrats become more sophisticated.

I have written about this issue before (here and here) and will probably write again. Even though it is clear that it will do little good. But, at least, bhaRRas tou niklay gi!

Probably the most angry post I have ever written on this blog was on this subject. I can do no better than just repeat parts of it verbatim:

No one cares. Our media is mostly silent. Opinion-mongers and columnists are too busy writing about such "practical" matters as solving the masala-e-falasteen and pontificating about WOT and what not. And as the reaction to my last post on this demonstrated, Pakistani abroad whose quami ghairat is otherwise so easily aroused also do not think this is worthy of their outrage.

And, maybe it is not. Blogging is not a big deal. Very few read blogs (or anything else) in Pakistan, and even fewer write. So what if another censorship agency is formed? So what if the effect is curtailing free speech? So what if to silence a few irresponsible sites all blogs on this platform are blocked? Why should we care?

We should. This is not about blogs. This about some self-styled super-Pakistanis deciding for us what we should think. This is about another state agency treating us like retards; as if we cannot decide what is or is not good for us and only they can.

More than that this is really bad public policy. Even if one were to assume that some sites need to be banned (and, I don’t).

  • First, they are punishing every blogger for the assumed sins of a few.
  • Second, there is no way they or anyone can actually censor the Internet (here) they can build whatever mousetraps they build, but the mice are smarter than them.
  • Third, if anyone thinks that Pakistan’s image is being damaged by the content of these supposedly "anti-Pakistan" sites; think again. The only thing sullying Pakistan’s image, are government regulations like this one. You want a better image for Pakistan, General Sahib? Let the bloggers be and give a shout-down to whoever came up with this goofy idea.

The whole thing is like trying to squat flies with a cannon. You end up making a lot of noise, raising a lot of dust, and doing no harm to the flies and getting a lot of dirt on yourself.

Virginia Inventors Develop Signal Acquisition Mode Controller

US Fed News Service, Including US State News September 23, 2006 ALEXANDRIA, Va., Sept. 23 — Timothy R. Miller of Arlington, Va., Gerard P. Lynch of Ashburn, Va., and Deepak M. Joseph of Oakton, Va., have developed a mode controller for signal acquisition and tracking in an ultra wideband communication system. web site debt to income ratio calculator

An abstract of the invention, released by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, said: “A system and method is provided for controlling the mode of operation in a UWB receiver. In one variation, the system and method determines the mode of operation by reading a set number of samples of the signal, estimating mode parameters, calculating a mode probability, and then transitioning in a finite state machine between a track and an acquisition state depending on the value of the mode probability. Exemplary versions of the mode controller include a signal to noise ratio calculator, a signal and noise power estimator, and an automatic gain control initialization circuit.” The inventors were issued U.S. Patent No. 7,110,473 on Sept. 19. go to website debt to income ratio calculator

The patent has been assigned to Freescale Semiconductor Inc., Austin, Texas.

For more information about US Fed News federal patent awards please contact: Myron Struck, Managing Editor/US Bureau, US Fed News, Direct: 703/866-4708, Cell: 703/304-1897, Myron@targetednews.com.

Call 800/786-9199 (in the U.S. or Canada) or 703/308-4357 for assistance from a U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Customer Service Representatives and/or access to the automated information message system.

36 Comments on “Google, Yahoo, BBC, CNN and Others Websites Blocked in Pakistan as PTCL Fumbles a Censorship Extravaganza”

  1. YLH says:
    March 7th, 2007 2:35 am

    People like those who are behind such foolishness are not superpakistanis… they are super idiots.

    BTW… it is well known that Etisalat does this on a routine basis in UAE… selling PTCL’s majority shareholding clearly wasn’t a good idea…

    Our heads hang in shame.

  2. YLH says:
    March 7th, 2007 2:38 am

    PS: Constitutions in most country serve to protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and religion against infringement from the tyranny of the majority….
    In Pakistan our blighted constitution protects the tyranny of the majority from infringement by fundamental rights.

    Shame on Pakistan’s Apex court for giving a ruling that threatens to thwart progress…

  3. YLH says:
    March 7th, 2007 2:39 am

    errata: “countries”.

  4. Abdullah says:
    March 7th, 2007 4:25 am

    “Walkover” should not be allowed to any medium. Checks are highly necessary. We know some websites, which are misguiding / misleading & promote vulgarity. These type of websited should be blocked.

  5. ayesha says:
    March 7th, 2007 4:27 am

    Ummm, but yahoo, cnn, bbc, and google have been accessible here in Pakistan. I did not notice any such problem.

  6. Abdullah says:
    March 7th, 2007 4:49 am

    Ayesh ! u r right, I am also using all websites frequently. May be Govt. imposed some checks of particular filteration, but all are accessible.

  7. Omar R. Quraishi says:
    March 7th, 2007 5:25 am

    Adil — if it’s ok with you maybe I will quote you (maybe extensively) on your blogspot ban in my column

    Let me know

  8. March 7th, 2007 8:45 am

    Ayesha and Abdullah – the incident was sporadic around the weekend, lasted for 4 days and PTA drew a lot of steam from the regional offices. Was extensively reported in The News and other papers as well

  9. Daktar says:
    March 7th, 2007 10:16 am

    Well the good news is that people are making a noise and it does seem to be making a difference. I though the News story you quoted was very hard hitting. It was on the mark in investigation but also its comments were hard hitting.

    Maybe, because thie is something that effects the elites something wil actually be done about it.

  10. Daktar says:
    March 7th, 2007 10:21 am

    [quote comment="36902"]“Walkover” should not be allowed to any medium. Checks are highly necessary. We know some websites, which are misguiding / misleading & promote vulgarity. These type of websited should be blocked.[/quote]

    I am sorry it is this type of reasoning that is at the root of the problem. What does ‘walkover’ mean. Who will decide what is vulgarity for whom and what is ‘misguiding’ and ‘misleading’? You go down that route and you will become another Taliban state.

    Thsi thinking stems from what Adil is talking about. Treating people as if they are retards. Treating them as if they cannot make decisions for themselves and we somehow need some wise people to decide for them. The tendency of control freaks must be checked and checked strongly. This is a symptom of the larger disease of our self-styled moral police imposing their wierd notions on the rest of society.

  11. March 7th, 2007 11:33 am

    After seeing this blog, i accessed a few and they are fine. I believe it is like what Teeth Maestro said that this was sporadic; can someone please tell me why blogspot is back on again; not that i am not complaining; it is just that i was just able to access it after 8 months and i do not know whether i should start using it or stay the course and keep blogging on hold; any blogspotters out there who can help to advise

  12. Farrukh says:
    March 7th, 2007 12:04 pm

    Many domains were certainly out for many days. It was resolved around 4 days ago and I think what happened is that when they found the mess they had made, they quickly unblocked everything, including Blogspot. But that will not last long.

  13. Babar says:
    March 7th, 2007 12:41 pm

    In a way I am glad that this issue happened – perhaps now it will get some attention from the decision makers and some positive resolution may come out of this!

  14. Farrukh says:
    March 7th, 2007 1:37 pm

    Just re-read some of the comments. The real issue is censorship, its not internet.

    Do we as a nation trust our people?

    It s obvious that we don’t. That is what is sad.

  15. salman says:
    March 7th, 2007 11:18 pm

    To you all.

    yes there should be no censorship ! Right?
    (In war there is alwaya a Collateral Damage)

    visit pakistani nude sites and let you kids, mother and sisters to see.

    Tip: vote for MMA before its too late.

  16. Samdani says:
    March 8th, 2007 12:12 am

    [quote comment="36984"]yes there should be no censorship ! Right?
    (In war there is alwaya a Collateral Damage)
    [/quote]

    I will leave the fighting of wars to you and George Bush. Niether’s view of collateral damage makes any sense either!

    [quote comment="36984"]visit pakistani nude sites and let you kids, mother and sisters to see.[/quote]

    I have no interest in visiting any nude sites. But I do believe in freedom, so I will certainly not try to stop you from visiting them if you want. Or from letting your kids, mother and sisters see if that is what you want.

  17. salman says:
    March 8th, 2007 1:11 am

    Samdani, What a rubbish answer !

    don’t block your mind. think!

    My freedom must end at your nose.

    They are insulting our (your) Prophet (God’s peace and blessing be upon him) and you want freedom of speech for them? and there news.

    Do you know who was our Prophet?
    what he did and gave to the humankind?

    Let the blockade be a Collateral Damage. request the gov. to unblock your clean blog, if they don,t voice against it or even fight for it in courts or clone it to some other blog site.
    Don’t be part of the “THEM”

  18. YLH says:
    March 8th, 2007 4:19 am

    God save Pakistan, Pakistanis, Islam, Muslims etc from people like Salman.

    Ameen

  19. Omar R. Quraishi says:
    March 8th, 2007 6:04 am

    I agree with you completely YLH –

  20. March 8th, 2007 10:12 am

    Last time i checked out, above 90% of Pakistani net traffic was porn.
    Now should a ban reduce this level? Maybe not, because there is no technology to do that, u cant block the internet in the conventional approach our government is taking. Its not possible to have a preemptive filter, only reactive ones can be built to slow it down. However, even that is not a viable solutions, internet proxies can let you do anything.
    I lived in Saudia for 12 years and still visit the place nearly every year. The internet has always started with a censorship mechanism, and if u try to access a site which is censored, u get a page indicating that the site is censored, however, they give u a small form to write why should this website not be censored. CNN was censored and then after some days it was considered safe, maybe by public opinion (not in the press mind u). If the Saudis who are quite conserved provide such a voice to the public, y cant we do the same?

    I say if we have more young age marriages, boys in 20-22 girls in 18-20, porn traffic will automatically decrease. But lo! we have the social taboos of getting married b4 graduation, job, etc and also the social taboos of liberals of early marriages.

    We cant live a dual social system. Please, lets petition for Islam, which never came to Pakistan, we can also go for the other option of being a truly secular country, in that case, lets first merge back with mother India shall we lest we become hypocrites!

    PS: I wont support the MMA, not again atleast, for I think the need of a Masjid is felt only when there r namaazis around. U cant build a masjid first and then force people to pray.

    Secondly, MMA cant represent Islam since they live in the medieval ages.

  21. March 8th, 2007 10:20 am

    @Salman: Denying the existance of blasphemy to the public doesnot strenghten their ‘Aqeeda’. If we r so true at Islam, if we have truly chosen this religion by reason and by heart, we shudnt b afraid of Islam bashers in any form out there. Read the Seerah, the Holy Prophet PBUH and his sahaba were constantly humiliated by the poeple of Makkah and you know what the people of Taif did to him. Was there any revolt against all that.
    Lets be patient, adopt Sabr, Taqwa and enlighten ourselves first, then our families, neighborhoods and the state at large, a bottom up approach, not a top down one as is idealized by both the current government and MMA.

    And keep in mind, we cannot have a homogenously thinking population, even during the Prophet’s PBUH era, there remained to be so many nonMuslims. Read Surah Baqara and you will know y there always be adversaries.

    Internet should be free!

  22. Daktar says:
    March 8th, 2007 10:25 am

    [quote comment="37025"]Last time i checked out, above 90% of Pakistani net traffic was porn.[/quote]

    Where did you check? What is the source?

  23. Asma says:
    March 8th, 2007 10:50 am

    Pakistan Peoples Party is the only party who took stand and issue a statement on this fiasco.

    See below or on official website of PPP http://www.ppp.org.pk/news_events/mar/8a-3-2007.html
    …………………………………………….
    PPP questions another IT fiasco of current regime

    Islamabad, 7 March 2007: “PPP fully supports the email users who are running out of patience and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who continue to lose business due to the inefficiency of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) and PTCL” said Tariq Malik, Advisor IT (Information Technology) of the Party in a statement today.

    The PPP advisor criticised the Ministry of IT&T for its silence on the issue.

    The Internet-users have been facing problems intermittently in accessing vital web-based email servers, business and information portals. PTCL blocked access to thousands of vital websites and email servers on February 28 in order to comply with the Supreme Court order of filtering certain websites containing blasphemous content “at all costs” .

    It is interesting that neither Ministry of IT&T nor PTA or PTCL did any risk or impact analysis before embarking on over-simplistic approach of blindly en masse blocking the Internet Protocol addressees, he said.

    “They could have used some content filtering software to avoid this embarrassing situation and financial loss to ISPs” said Tariq Malik.

    He asked why the PTCL could not rollback or unblock the Internet Protocols (IPs) at its gateway exchange after it realized that it made a huge mistake? Almost a week has past and the users are continuing to suffer. The whole system had collapsed and owing to the routing and blocking flaws resulted in sporadic and random outage of the key websites

    The Party’s IT advisor recalled that Pakistan’s Internet and other telecom links with the rest of the world were severed in 2006 on account of a fault in a key submarine. And because of no backup at all, Pakistan was cut off with rest of the world as only internet link (through the SEA-ME-WE3 submarine cable) went down. This incident had shaken the will of foreign IT investors who before this incident were considering investment in Pakistan IT sector.

    Just a fraction of cost associated to only Indian call centres to be outsourced to Pakistan amounted roughly $20 million as the companies withdrew the offer in the wake of internet blackout. “It seems no lessons were learnt from the previous disaster. This is yet another example of mismanagement of the current administration. “.

    He said that Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s government would never have tolerated such inefficiency and distress to the IT users. He said that under the dynamic and modern leadership of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the PPP would provide the base for the youth of the country to prosper and for the economy to go strong.

    He also demanded an immediate inquiry of the incident.

  24. Yousaf says:
    March 8th, 2007 4:35 pm

    Reminded me of Ustad Daman’s

    Jidhar veykho sirgat paan

    zindabad meyra Pakistan

    Jidhar veykho kulchey naan

    zindabad meyra Pakistan!

  25. Qiyas II says:
    March 9th, 2007 5:53 pm

    Excuse me, folks. While PTA and PTCL (or in general the government) may have been a bit ham-handed in handling Internet filtering, at the the heart of the censorship issue lies an article of the Pakistani constitution (Section II, Article 19). You can read a bit more about this issue and associated comments here:
    http://ahmedn8.wordpress.com/2007/01/11/slap-the-block

    The constitutional restriction is what really needs to be addressed. All the rest is merely bureaucratic and operational activity (well or poorly carried out) in implementing the restriction.

  26. Daktar says:
    March 10th, 2007 12:23 am

    The arbitrary nature of this censorship is not different from what was done today with the Chief Justice. There is a trend here folks.

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