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,,,,, 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,,,,, 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 ( 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.

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