You probably won’t find this in a craigslist job posting, but if you’re an IT professional who specializes in suppressing free speech, Pakistan just might have a job for you.
The Central Asian nation has come under sharp criticism from free speech advocates for recently placing help-wanted ads overtly inviting “academia, research institutions, companies, organizations” to submit proposals “for the development, deployment and operation of a national level URL Filtering and Blocking System.” Critics have dubbed the web filtration system “The Great (Fire)Wall of Pakistan” after an eponymous Op-Ed by Jahanzaib Haque, published March 4 in The Express Tribune.
While Pakistan’s approximately 20 million web users may have more online freedom than citizens of other Asian and Arab nations, this is by no means Pakistan’s first foray into information censorship. The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) currently blocks a number of sites they consider pornographic, insulting to Islam, relating to separatist activities, or being critical of the army.
The PTA’s new censorship measures could block as many as 50 million web addresses, and would come at a critical time right before the nation’s upcoming general elections. This timing leads many opponents to view the measure as an attempt to tighten down media control and suppress government criticism.
One opponent of the plan tweeted a reminder of the 2008 YouTube blackout caused by Pakistan’s censorship of the popular video-sharing website.
Consider this as Pakistan plans censorship: In 2008, Pakistan’s attempt to block YouTube resulted in a two hour worldwide YouTube blackout.
Others refer to its implications for coverage of the ongoing conflict in Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces and home to the Baloch ethnic group:
Dear urban rats, Internet censorship is Pakistan army’s brainchild, not against your NGOs but against LUBP, PB, Al Ufaq, Baloch websites.
Still others are promoting an online petition against the proposed censorship measures.
No news yet on whether anyone has answered the ads, but at least one qualified company actively rejects the invitation. San Diego based Websense, a web-filtering specialist, issued a statement opposing the request for proposals:
Websense will not submit a response to this request for proposal (RFP), and we call on other technology providers to also do the right thing for the citizens of Pakistan and refuse to submit a proposal for this contract. Broad government censorship of citizen access to the internet is morally wrong. We further believe that any company whose products are currently being used for government-imposed censorship should remove their technology so that it is not used in this way by oppressive governments.
Websense will work with the GNI and other interested parties to continue to pressure our peers to not only refuse this RFP, but to adopt general policies so that they will also refuse to support government-imposed censorship of the internet in the future.