Interior Ministry to constitute a ‘special committee’ to deliberate on monitoring and blocking of online content

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Interior Ministry is to constitute a special committee to deliberate on the blocking of online content.

This was stated by the Chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Dr. Ismail Shah while briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology.

According to Dr. Shah, the proposed committee would have representation from various government bodies including the Interior Ministry, the Federal Investigation Agency and the PTA. The committee, he said, will deliberate on the censorship of online content.

However, it is not clear that whether this committee will only act as an advisory forum or will take decisions about content blocking, that PTA will then implement. It is also not clear that whether the committee will consult only the government agencies, or will also engage political representatives of parties in the parliament and the civil society members.

Earlier, sources within MOIT said that PTA would take down content in consultation with other government agencies.

Despite repeated attempts to contact PTA Chairman Dr. Ismail Shah, to get clarity on the function and the composition of the proposed committee, he remained unavailable to comment.

It is to be noted that Section 37 of Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, PECA, empowers PTA to censor online content.

Meanwhile, contradictory statements were reported in the media about the role of this committee. Express Tribune quoted Dr. Ismail Shah saying that the special committee was being constituted by PTA in collaboration with FIA to “rigorously monitor, evaluate and keep strict checks on blasphemous content in cyberspace.”

Earlier, Media Matters for Democracy’s investigation had revealed that a 25-member Internet Policy and Web Analysis Wing, mostly comprising of IT graduates, is working within PTA to censor online content.

PTA Chairman Dr. Shah, however, did not share any information about the function and composition of IPWA with the members of the Standing Committee during this meeting.

9000 complaints filed with PTA

PTA Chairman also informed the Standing Committee on IT that PTA received 9000 complaints for content blocking. He added that PTA had monitored 7000 complaints and blocked 3325 websites for containing blasphemous material.

He also said that PTA identified 188 websites containing blasphemous content through registered complaints.

A. Khan is a senior journalist with more than 8 years of experience covering important issues within Political and IT beat. In the past, he had also worked with renowned English Newspapers including Express Tribune.

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