Filtering SMS: PTA may ban over 1,500 English, Urdu words

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Jahanzaib Haque/Shaheryar Popalzai

KARACHI: After rumours of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) imposing a ban on porn sites in the country, a new PTA letter floating online orders the imposition of a “system” to ban select words in mobile SMS messages.

A set of two extensive lists in English and Urdu have allegedly been compiled by the PTA. The list of English words crosses the 1,000 figure, while the Urdu list contains over 550 words.

A scan of the letter (dated November 14, 2011) sent from Muhammad Talib Doger, Director General (Services) PTA, states that the filtering of content through SMS must be considered under the scope of “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009″ and the SOPs laid down to control spamming. The letter is written with reference to a meeting held with mobile phone operators on October 18, 2011 in Islamabad.

PTA has ordered the implementation of the system within seven days of the issuance of the said letter. All operators have been asked to submit a monthly report to PTA regarding the number of blocked text messages.

“Spamming” has been defined as:

The transmission of harmful, fraudulent, misleading, illegal or unsolicited messages in bulk to any person without express permission of the recipient, or causing any electronic system to show any such message or is being involved in falsified online user account registration or falsified domain name registration for commercial purpose.

The letter states that under the “provisions and dictum” by the higher courts, the “fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of speech and expressions guaranteed under the constitution are not unrestricted and are subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law”.

Clause (d) of sub-section (1) of section 31 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 states that:

Whoever “unauthorisedly transmits through a telecommunication system or telecommunication service any intelligence which he knows or has reason to be false, fabricated, indecent or obscene” is an offence under the Act.

Content filtering may be done through “through automated machine process(s)/function(s)”  without reading or disclosing “content of intelligence” by a human being in order to protect consumers under provisions of the Act.

Under license condition No.7.8 of the cellular mobile license:

The Licensee shall take all reasonable steps to track, locate and prevent the source of harassing, unsolicited, offensive, fraudulent or unlawful communication.

Director PR for PTA, Mohammad Younis, while speaking to The Express Tribune, said that he was not aware of any such letter being sent out, adding that many letters are sent out to operators every day, and not all of them go through the PR office.

Speaking on whether the PTA had taken a decision on SMS filtering in the past, Younis said that the authority does not take such decisions and only passes on the instructions to licensees once a decision is taken by a ministerial committee.

While much of the list contains expletives, a number of words to be banned include medical terms, terms used by particular minority groups, common words from the English language and rap group, WuTang Clan.

Medical terms to be banned:

Athletes foot

Breast

Condom

Flatulence

Intercourse

Period

Premature

Tongue

Herpes

Daily usage words to be banned:

Deeper

Fairy

Fingerfood

Hole

Hostage

Harder

Religious terms to be banned:

Devil

Jesus Christ

LGBT terms to be banned:

Gay

Homosexual

Queer

Musicians/artists to be banned:

Wuutang

Reactions online

faizanlakhani even the word “taxi” is on ban list of PTA … #Fail

Amara807 Bewakoof is banned? Random

abbasnasir59 With PTA’s legendary efficiency I am sure Pakistanis won’t be able to access Fcuk e-catalogue.

pateesa  So no Pakistani will ever apply to Lund University for his masters, or work at BundesBank. #PTABannedWords

kaalakawaa The banned list includes every conceivable incorrectly spelled version of “masturbation”. “Masturbation”, spelt correctly, is not banned.

ZebAslam And “slave driver” is gone too. Damn. I can imagine a lot of unhappy worker drones. #PTA #bannedlist

abidhussayn Expect Mobile Companies to shut down all their SMS bundle packages in 7 days.

shakirhusain why the hell has #PTA blocked Athlete’s foot???

anthonypermal  You know, with the word ‘creamy’ banned, one wonders what cheap-ass erotic novel the compiler was reading. #PTABannedList

Published in The Express Tribune.

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