Govt becomes hurdle in unblocking YouTube despite Google’s efforts

KARACHI: Representatives from Google failed to clinch a deal with the federal government because the IT ministry, despite all impediments having been cleared, has still not been able to issue the official notification to unblock the video sharing site Youtube, it has been learnt.

According to details, Google administration has spent millions of dollars to build and launch ‘YouTubePK’ on the request of Pakistan’s IT ministry, to help regulate the content locally.

However, the officials from Google had to return empty-handed on Thursday without arriving at a deal with the government, an official privy to the development shared with The News Dispatch.

The Pakistani authorities on Tuesday had discussed the matter of lifting the ban on YouTube as Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, after five-hour-long deliberations, asked IT Minister Anusha Rahman to take steps for issuing a notification for unblocking YouTube in the country.

“But its Friday now, and nothing has been done about it yet,” said the official of the IT ministry, who wished not to be named.

“The understanding between the government and Google was that launching of YoutubePK and orders for unblocking the site will take place simultaneously. But the Google representatives have now left the country, after staying back and waiting in vain for days.”

Meanwhile, experts fear that this tardiness on part of the IT ministry could cost Pakistan a complete pull-out by Google, or another blanket ban if anyone decided to approach the court on this matter again.

Jehan Ara, the president of Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), said she is personally not in favour of the ‘localised’ version of YouTube. “This will give government the authority to block anything which tantamount to a snub on freedom of expression,” she added.

The internet should be without any classification or blocking, she maintained, “but if the government has made a deal with Google (to upload limited content) which will lead to unblocking YouTube in Pakistan, it’s still better than nothing”.

Jehan Ara was of the view that no one actually goes looking for the blasphemous content on the internet in the first place.

Farieha Aziz, the director of Bolo Bhi — an organisation that advocates digital security and privacy — said a case is under hearing at the Supreme Court and its decision will actually decide the future of YouTube in Pakistan.

However, there have been repeated calls for self regulation by the Senate and the National Assembly, which passed a bill in favour of lifting the ban on YouTube, she maintained.

Regarding the newly launched localised version of YouTube, Farieha Aziz said, “There is no certainty as to what will be removed, under what law, and that who will be the one making these decisions.”

Bolo Bhi has already filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court challenging the legality of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW), with the aim of having it struck down and declared unconstitutional.

The shadowy body set up in 2006 operates under the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT). It is responsible for all official decisions taken to block online content in Pakistan.

Sources said Google spent a lot of money to engineer YouTubePK, a localised domain for Pakistan that would detect IP addresses of the country and automatically divert them to the localised domain devoid of any “objectionable material”.

 

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