Internet Freedom and Censorship in Pakistan: The Objectives

The use of internet for democracy led movements around the world has resulted in government’s crackdown on the web in the form of blanket censorship. Most governments in developing countries like Pakistan want to regulate the Internet in the way Television is regulated and have tighter control mechanism in place in guise of national security, religion and protection of society. Before the coming of Arab Spring government in Pakistan was planning on promoting the Internet for socio-economic development but off late the policies have been skulking and broadband diffusion is not taking off as earlier predicted. Furthermore, government censorship of Internet has been increasing and famous websites, blogs, Facebook pages remains blocked. New filtering technologies and mechanism are in place that blocks not just only porn, blasphemous material but political content and events as well. Anonymous proxy servers, android proxy applications, VPN to circumvent web blocking are being blocked on daily basis.  The alarming growth of web censorship in Pakistan is threatening the future of Internet and creating a digitally divided society with unequal access to knowledge and free speech.

Countries like Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia and China want greater control of the Internet and NSA revelations of mass surveillance by Edward Snowden have furthered their governments desires to choke off access to the Internet in the name of “information security” — a euphemism for censorship. Pakistan is already closely following the Chinese model of Internet regulation with strict mechanism being put in place for controlling access to Internet. The creation of Internet policies are being framed in the guise of national security, protection of social values and religion without considering the impact on advancement of Pakistani society. Similarly in Turkey, Twitter was blocked just before the local elections in the name of national security and the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to wipe out Twitter completely and admitted passing orders for it’s blockage. It’s a prime example how policy is made and internet freedom restricted in emerging developing countries.

A recent study by PEW Research center for support for Internet freedom ranks Pakistan at the bottom linking low support for internet freedom to low internet penetration in the country.

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The report further suggests that youth in emerging developing countries are opposed to Internet censorship and have very high expectation of the internet and are participant of a global emerging culture wanting a free and open Internet.

The project will explore the attitudes, experiences and opinions of public towards Internet access, surveillance and censorship in Pakistan based on various demographic characteristics such as age, income, location, religious beliefs, access to Internet technologies and usage of Internet in Pakistan by conducting a national survey.  These issues are of particular importance to track at this time as Pakistan seeks to introduce new Internet policies and regulations that could reshape the public’s experiences online – for better or worse.

The study will attempt to determine the following research questions by conducting a national survey in urban and rural locations of the country.

  • How does the public in Pakistan use the internet, how is this affected by socio-economic status and geography.
  • What are the beliefs and opinions of the public about the internet in general, online content?
  • What are the public’s beliefs and opinions about censorship, privacy, surveillance on the Internet?
  • How knowledgeable is the public about internet policy issues on the national stage? How relevant are these issues to the everyday lives of the public?

Very little research has been carried out on understanding the attitudes and behaviors of Internet users based on various demographic characteristics such as age, income, location, religious beliefs, and access to Internet, usage and awareness about Internet freedom and censorship in Pakistan and there is no defining work publicly available. This research will pave the way for greater understanding of all these important issues and the researcher hopes the data collected in the research will enable further studies especially cross country comparisons with Iran, Turkey, India and Afghanistan to be undertaken within a broader international context. Furthermore it is also hoped that the data analysis and report dissemination will help the Government and Policy makers formulate better policies and strategies for open and free Internet in the country. The reports and publications will also help the international community better understand dynamics of Internet policy and public behavior, attitudes and perception towards Internet freedom, censorship in Pakistan with reference to social impact and changes brought by Internet.

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