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210 URLs Blocked In Pakistan From 2014-2017

In the past three years, 210 URLs have been blocked in Pakistan.  Data were collected from 22 internet service providers by Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and Bytes for All Pakistan.  Data were analyzed from 2014 to 2017 and 210 URLs were confirmed to be blocked by 22 ISPs.

Various tests were conducted for confirmation of the blocked URLs which include HTTP Invalid Request Line and header field manipulation and Vanilla Tor.

The study conducted was with the aim to analyze censorship of the internet in Pakistan and 200 countries around the world. Internet censorship was examined in Pakistan by collaborate effort of OONI and Bytes for All Pakistan

The report said, “Explicit block pages were observed for many of these URLs, while others were blocked by means of DNS tampering. Many of the blocked URLs were considered blasphemous under the Pakistan Penal Code for hosting content related to the controversial ‘Draw [Prophet] Muhammad Day’ campaign. Geopolitical power dynamics appear to be reinforced through the blocking of sites run by ethnic minority groups.”

Haroon Baloch an author of the report said that the findings of the report indicate a political conflict in Pakistan from 2014. On this situation, he said, “In Pakistan, it has worsened since January 2017 — after the disappearance of the bloggers,”

People can report a page or contact PTA for blockage of an objectionable page. Then PTA would approach ISPs to completely block a certain URL.

A claim made in the report is that ISPs was blocking selective pages by applying ‘smart filters’ instead of blocking entire domains.

The report also highlighted the positive point by saying, “On a positive note, popular communications apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, were accessible during the testing period. We find that the Tor network, which enables its users to browse the web anonymously, was mostly accessible.”

Digital Rights Foundation Nighat Dad said, “The filtration technology has been there for a while in Pakistan and I think back in 2011 or 2012 there was a report on Pakistan’s internet exchange gateway and they learned about the filtration method and how to block websites — it has always been there. It doesn’t come as a surprise that 210 URLs were blocked. I’m sure if you test all of those available in the country there must be several hundred URLs blocked.”

She added, “It was not valid to censor or ban content before the law. If you read the clauses of the law, they clearly state that anything that hurts national security, armed forces or religion can be censored.”