Over 1.25m URLs blocked over objectionable content

KARACHI: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has blocked more than 1.25 million URLs over objectionable content, the telecom sector regulator told the Sindh High Court on 16 April 2024.

The authority submitted its reply to a petition filed against `objectionable, unethical, immoral and unlawful` content being uploaded on social media platforms.

The regulator told the SHC that out of the 1,253,522 blocked URLs, 988,659 were banned for indecent and immoral content, 90,980 for content against the glory of Islam, 84,130 for content against security and defence of the country, 52,787 for spreading sectarian and hate speech, 10, 363 for defamation and impersonation, 10,252 for being proxies, 9,366 for miscellaneous reasons and 6,985 URLs for the contempt of court.

Providing a breakdown, the PTA said out of blocked URLs 139,415 were Facebook links, 98,597 of Tiktok, 50,975 of YouTube, 18,123 of Instagram, 5,184 of Snackvideo, 4,285 of Bigo and Linkee and 550 of Dailymotion and 887,435 miscellaneous.

The regulator told SHC that it was maintaining a record of around 1.34m, out of which over 71,722 were still accessible, and requests to block 16,122 URLs were rejected.

In order to keep the database updated, the URLs need to be frequently verified and re-verified, and it was `an ongoing exercise` The PTA submitted its reply after it was made a respondent in a petition moved by some YouTube content creators, who had pleaded that objectionable, unethical, immoral and unlawful content was being uploaded on social media platforms.

A two-judge SHC bench, headed by Chief Justice Ageel Ahmed Abbasi, resumed the hearing on Tuesday and provided a copy of the regulator`s reply to the petitioners` lawyer.

Regarding the petition in question, the authority asserted that it had blocked the Instagram and YouTube URLs as mandated under Section 37(1) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.

The said section titled `Unlawful online content` empowers PTA to `remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information through any information system if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement to an offence under this Act.

The PTA also questioned the petition`s maintainability on the grounds that petitioners have no ground to file it as they didn`t approach PTA to address their concerns. The authority also requested the petitioners to share the exact URLs of objectionable content, but they did not provide the same, PTA claimed. Later, the hearing was adjourned till May 15 after a deputy attorney general requested for more time to seek instructions from remaining respondents zonal directors and director of FIA`s cybercrime wing to file comments.

At an earlier hearing, the SHC had directed the PTA to enforce relevant laws and rules to prevent and remove objectionable content on social media platforms.

The counsel for petitioners, Usman Farooq, contended that PTA had the authority under the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016 and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules, 2021, to remove and block vulgar and unlawful content and take appropriate action.

However, he maintained that the authority was not taking prompt action and asked the SHC to issue directives to block objectionable content.

Mr Farooq also asserted that objectionable content was not only severely affecting social and cultural norms and values but also against the injunctions of Islam.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 17th April 2024.

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