PTA blocks 1.07m ‘objectionable’ web links

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority told the Peshawar High Court on 4 April 2024 that it had blocked 1.07 million web links after finding their contents to be blasphemous or pornographic. A bench consisting of Justice Syed Mohammad Attique Shah and Justice Syed Arshad Ali disposed of a petition of several lawyers seeking the court`s directives for the respondents, including the PTA, to block all links on social media platforms carrying blasphemous contents, which, he said, were against the injunctions of Islam.

The petitioners also called for the issuance of orders to the PTA for filtering contents before uploading on social media platforms.

Following arguments by one of the petitioners, Sara Ali Khan, lawyer for the PTA Jehanzeb Mehsud and deputy attorney general Hazrat Said, the bench pronounced a short order for disposing of the petition. Detailed judgement will be released later.

Advocate Sara Ali contended that the petitioners came to know about the issue on social media in which openly blasphemous material were available and were still circulating. She said that act was not only against the injunctions of Islam but was also against humanity. `Such acts also violate provisions of the Constitution,` she said.

The lawyer argued that the respondents, including the PTA, had the authority to regulate circulation of different contents on social media platforms.

She added that the Constitution didn`t allow circulation of any un-Islamic material on social media and the respondents should devise a mechanism for blocking such material prior to its uploading.

Advocate Jehanzeb Mehsud submitted comments on behalf of the PTA`s chairman and said out of a total of 1.109 million web links processed by the authority, 110,862 were related to blasphemy and of them, 90,976 (82.06 percent) were blocked.

He added that those links were from social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and Daily Motion.

The lawyer said 998,334 processed links were related to pornography and of them, 988,768 (99.04 per cent) were blocked by the PTA.

He said on receipt of the petition, the PTA, based on information available in the petition, searched for the alleged blasphemous contents and took up the matter with the relevant social media platform and blocked/banned the content for viewership in the country.

When the bench asked if the PTA had any mechanism to block any content before its uploading, the lawyer said no such mechanism was available so far to filter contents before uploading it from any source.

Mr Mehsud said the PTA had established the Web Analysis Division to deal with the issues related to unlawful online content and a dedicated `wed analysis cell` was working under it. The counsel said the division had also developed an e-portal to receive complaints from stakeholder organisations including ministries, intelligence agencies and law-enforcement agencies and these organisations had also established dedicated cyber wings in their respective departments.

He said Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act empowered the PTA to remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information through any information system, if it considered it necessary, in the interest of glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality.

He contended that the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and safeguard) Rules, 2021, provided mechanism to deal with the blocking or removal of `online content` and any person or entity could file a complaint to the PTA regarding unlawful content.

The counsel said under the rules, the petitioners could approach the PTA with a complaint about any website carrying objectionable contents.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 5th April 2024.

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