Express.pk now stands at 48 in the top 100 visited sites in Pakistan (and growing fast), while Geo stands at 50 (and dropping).
This is quite an achievement for a website that was launched about 1.5 years ago. In terms of overall numbers, Geo is of course larger, but its stagnant/downward trajectory is not a good sign for a brand that should be well beyond all others.
I have written before about the need for media groups to wake up and strategize for the online space or find themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant, as brand value does not hold the same meaning online.
Lets hope we see the landscape change — in the meantime, the ZemTV’s and Hamariweb’s of local cyberspace will continue to reap the benefits of traditional media’s inability (or worse, refusal) to intelligently invest in the revolution that is at hand.
The first ever comprehensive report mapping Pakistan’s past, present and possible future online – “Pakistan’s Internet Landscape” – was launched today at Avari Towers, in Karachi. Jahanzaib Haque, Web Editor, The Express Tribune and author of the 28-page report presented the principle findings and recommendations highlighted in the research.
The report outlines Internet control mechanisms deployed by the government, and highlights existing legislation and its application in relation to the internet. It provides a historical perspective of Internet censorship in Pakistan and the move to criminalize legitimate expression online. It also outlines the state of internet surveillance, means deployed, and the purpose and impact of such monitoring.
Haque says “The state’s need to police the internet has led to numerous violations of fundamental rights, particularly access to information through large-scale blocking and filtering. However, citizens have turned to proxy servers and virtual private networks to circumvent blocks put in place, so Pakistanis still have access to a wide range of content, for now.”
The event was attended by leading media practitioners, journalists, human rights activists, civil society, researchers and major stakeholders in the online space.
The report’s was produced for Bytes For All, Pakistan (B4A), a human rights organization with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The organization regularly organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening human rights movements in Pakistan.
Emphasizing the significance of the report, Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes for All, Pakistan, said ‘We felt the need for a comprehensive mapping of the Internet governance issues the nation is faced with, ranging from the legal framework to the technologies in use, the abuse of these technologies by the government, and impact on fundamental rights of the citizens. This study further pulls together and maps information on Internet processes and power centers to provide a baseline and a reference for citizens’ awareness of issues emerging vis-à-vis this technology vital to our lives, livelihoods, rights and freedoms.’
The report was earlier launched internationally in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2013, and was presented to UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank la Rue. The report is based on Mr le Rue’s work and recommendations.
PAKISTAN’S INTERNET LANDSCAPE – KEY FINDINGS:
- Internet penetration has seen growth to an estimated 10- 16% of the population, with the country boasting 15 million mobile internet users despite a lack of 3G technology.
- A large section of internet users, particularly in rural areas, still rely on poor quality dial-up connections, or EDGE mobile connectivity, that makes most online activities difficult. A switch to 3G or even 4G mobile networks could be harnessed to provide internet access to rural areas, not only to mobile phones, but desktops, laptops and tablets as well.
- Greater freedom and internet access for citizens has been met with increased state control, and systematic surveillance and censorship of the web. While blocking and filtering has been increasingly systematized in recent years, the process remains inconsistent and lacks transparency.
- The blasphemy laws pose the most direct challenge to the internet in Pakistan, as cases such as the Facebook ban and the YouTube ban have shown that the pillars of the state appear to be in agreement when it comes to blocking content deemed blasphemous, although the blasphemy laws are problematic, and do not address the internet specifically.
- Aside from blasphemy, blocking/filtering has largely focused on the crisis in Balochistan and information creating a perceived negative image of politicians or the military.
- Radical religious groups have rapidly expanded in the online space, operating with impunity and forming a dangerous bloc that threatens cyberspace on many levels.
- Most citizens have turned to proxy servers, virtual private networks and other tools to circumvent blocks. Through workarounds, Pakistanis still have access to a wide range of content.
- The authorities push to control cyberspace breaches constitutionally established fundamental rights of citizens, and will have a negative impact on future socio economic development.
- The disconnection of mobile services is a disturbing trend that could have far-reaching, negative implications, as mobile phones present the greatest potential for internet access in the country.
- The state has systematically worked to legitimize the invasion of citizens’ online privacy.
- While there is a great need for laws that deal with use of the internet in connection to illegal activities, the existing legislation and practices are flawed and open to misuse and human rights violations.
- Cyber-attacks have been a part of Pakistan’s online space since over a decade, and almost entirely in connection with neighboring India. Both hacktivism and attacks on online businesses pose a real threat that needs to be addressed, both legislatively and through action by the security apparatus or relevant agencies.
The Senate Defence Committee has been kind enough to release what is, most definitely, a useful cyber security manual for Pakistani journalists. The booklet can be downloaded from here.
I found the manual refreshingly honest and straight forward — to the point where I really have to wonder, did our government folk really read the details before publishing this?
Check out this matter-of-fact discussion of who could harm journalists:
Who could harm you?
As CPJ says Pakistani journalists face a wide array of threats, the risks can come from number of places. Therefore, it is important to be alert to all those, who are likely to be affected by your work.
The government, the military, and their spy agencies are normally at the top of any list of those likely to be snooping. However, now terrorist groups and criminals are increasingly resorting to cyber-surveillance.
Gotcha! Thanks for the heads up!
Next anomaly — In 2011, the government ordered all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to discontinue all virtual private network (VPN) services in Pakistan to prevent extremists from using the secure networks for communication. It is unclear whether this order was fully implemented, but it also has not been withdrawn. In which case, its a bit odd (though two thumbs up) that the cyber security manual encourages the use of VPNs.
Anonymous browsing is useful for protecting online identity, avoiding surveillance and accessing website that could have been blocked by authorities. It would also conceal your current whereabouts.
Anonymity can be achieved by using various anonymous or proxy webservers that act as a curtain between you and the websites that you are accessing. This can be done either through the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or free anonymizing services like the Tor (The Onion Router).
Aren’t you the same guys who are out blocking proxy sites and banning VPNs? No?
This last one takes the cake though — the manual has this gem for journalists to secure their mobile phones.
Always prefer to use a pre-paid connection that is not directly registered in your name. All such connections should be bought and recharged with cash and not by using credit cards.
Thanks! I’m ditching my post-paid SIM — linked to my name and with a submitted NIC copy — right now!
NOTE: Most of these responses are inspired by real comments
A little girl’s body was recovered in Pakistan today — and almost nobody noticed.
The story was not filed, as far as I could see, but a few photographs came through.
There were two photographs of the victim, probably aged 10-14. The photos must have been obtained from the girl’s family, who shared them with the media in hopes of having their story heard. The photos are recent, given the time stamp on them:
Then there is the image of the girl’s body – recovered, bearing marks of extreme torture and cruelty. It is an obscene image, but a necessary one I feel (and so did the photographer).
Sadly, it only captures a small part of the horror that must have been the child’s last hours, last minutes. I have uploaded it without blurring because the girl that once lived is no longer identifiable.
There is also a photo of her mother, begging the state for justice.
And last, there is a photo of SP (Investigation) Tanveer Hussain Tunio – the man who will presumably ensure the criminal(s) are apprehended.
Just another Sunday in Pakistan. The story is definitely not on TV. If it ever does appear on TV, it will be wrapped in many comforting layers of dramatization and music to prevent the news from appearing ‘too real’.
I doubt this story will make the papers. If it does, it will probably be a single column or a brief. Its a ‘done-to-death’ topic, too gory, too titillating, too scandalous, too shameful, too grim, too violent, too sensitive, too taboo, too anti-Pakistan etc.
I have no compelling words to round this off; I think the photos and the (lack of) media interest says enough — not just about the media, but our society as a whole.
Thanks to Photographer Hussain Ahmed who made an effort to file something on this.
First they came for Facebook, but the social media giant compromised its principles to provide Pakistanis a limited experience of the social network, entering a secret agreement with our government to block access to certain pages in the country.
Then they came for YouTube on religious grounds, and our largely illiterate population applauded the move to limit their access to information and freedom to speak out on an alternate medium outside the control of the state and local media. Google, for reasons of their own, has largely ignored the issue, and we have heaped scorn and hate on the company.
We have had many sections of the web being blocked recently, ranging from websites that monitored and recorded targeted attacks on Shias to the website of evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. We have had pro-Ahmadi websites and Facebook pages such as Roshni disappear. We have seen the continuation of a massive crackdown on Baloch websites. We have recently seen torrent sites being blocked en masse by some internet service providers (ISPs). We have had individual content targeted for bans such as the Beygairat Brigade’s music video Aalu Anday, a satirical rock song that challenged the dominant narrative of the state and our society.
It seems anything that potentially threatens the status quo is fair game for being blocked and banned, which is in direct violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But who cares about human rights in this country of ours.
Our Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman has proudly declared that 2,700 ‘objectionable’ websites have been blocked in Pakistan, and if she has her way, ‘objectionable content’ on the entire internet will be banned.
Sadly, our ISPs, rather than fighting for their customers’ rights, have opted to toe the line, allowing these bans based on directives issued by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) without questioning the grounds for a website being blocked.
There is no announcement to customers when a new site gets blocked. No apology. No explanation. No public list. No notice to the website owner. Only the dreaded one liner:
The ISPs say they are not responsible as they are only following instructions from above – but they are responsible.
The PTA says it is not responsible as it is similarly only following instructions – they too are directly responsible.
Who is actually issuing the instructions? What are they blocking (and what are they choosing not to block)?
No one knows, as there is no transparency and no legislation governing this process. So really, no one is to blame yet everyone is involved – how convenient.
The anonymous powers issuing instructions, the PTA and the ISPs know they can get away with all this because our nation is a tried and tested bunch of human cockroaches – ready to murder and lynch at the drop of a hat, yet completely ignorant and hollow at their core. We are hypocrites, which makes us easy to manipulate and squish. They know there will never be a revolution in Pakistan, much less a successful campaign against online censorship because none of us really stand united, or is seriously committed to any one set of values.
As I have written before, the values on which the internet has been created (ease of access, empowerment of the individual and such) are in direct conflict with our radicalised, reactionary and uneducated nation.
Who can we appeal to when all the pillars that regulate and govern our society are just as rotten as its people, and in this case, completely ignorant about the nature of the online space?
I fear for my little blog on WordPress. I fear for the news website I run. I fear for the Facebook pages I operate. You should too. They will get here eventually. How do I know?