August 18, 2019

PTA restricts access to 11,000 proxy servers; aims to regulate VPN use in Pakistan ‘through a new model’

In a Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology meeting on July 17, 2019, Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Amir Azeem Bajwa briefed the committee on the status of the crackdown on child pornography on the Internet in Pakistan.

He confirmed that PTA has blocked 2,384 websites pertaining to child pornography, and over 800,000 pornographic websites so far. It was also stated that PTA has restricted access to at least 11,000 proxy servers, and intend to regulate the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) in the country through a new model that they are trying to set up.

He added that Pakistan is constantly in contact with Interpol to assist PTA in restricting access to ‘vulgar’ content online, whereas Google has offered its support in taking appropriate actions in this regard. 

Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, through its Section 22, criminalizes the production, dissemination, and procurement of content that qualifies as child pornography, and carries a punishment of up to 7  years in jail and a fine of 5 million.

However, the rights groups express concern on this overbroad definition of ‘vulgar’ content and the access-restriction to VPN servers.

“Child pornography is a menace that needs to be dealt with iron hands, and the FIA and PTA are doing a great job to pushback on it. Arrests have been made in the past by FIA, which is commendable. However, we also see that overbroad terms used in PECA 2016, such as ‘anti-state’ and ‘immoral’ are often used to crackdown upon political dissent and as a weapon against free expression through Section 37 of PECA. Similarly, the VPN regulation will affect the access to all those websites which are unaccessible in Pakistan without any public justification, such as Voice of America”, says Sadaf Khan, the director of Media Matters for Democracy.

Section 37 of PECA allows PTA to block access to any website that the regulator deems ‘necessary’, without a clarification, or a clear definition of vague qualifiers.

It is important to note here that earlier this month, PTA has directed the telecom service providers “to deploy a suitable technical solution for monitoring, analyzing and curbing grey traffic”. According to the report, the regulation under ‘Monitoring and Reconciliation of International Telephone Traffic Regulations 2010 (MRITT) mandates the monitoring and blocking of any traffic (encrypted or not), including voice and data, originating or terminating in Pakistan, including the Voice or IP services.

Written by

Hija is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She has an extensive experience of advancing digital rights and protection in Pakistan, and has written for national and international publications on issues pertaining to digital rights. She tweets at @hijakamran

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