It’s been a year since the Pakistan government banned YouTube on September 17, 2012. Hundreds of businesses that relied on YouTube to promote their products, educate their employees and attract new customers have seen a decline in their businesses. However, the Pakistan government is yet to lift the ban from the video sharing Website.
Businesses and educators in Pakistan frustrated over the ban
Last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered a ban on YouTube and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) following the trailer release of the American film “Innocence of Muslims.” The trailer hurt Islamic sentiments around the world. Muslims considered it blasphemous and insulting. It provoked a clash in Pakistan, leaving 19 people dead. Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) was soon exempted. The aim of blocking YouTube in the country was to prevent videos that hurt Muslim sentiments. However, the move has unintentionally been irritating business, students, NGOs, and educators.
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The United States has asked Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) to remove the video trailer of “Innocence of Muslims.” But the search engine giant refused to do so, saying that the video did not violate any of its policy standards. According to Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s transparency report, YouTube is blocked in Iran, China, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The video sharing platform has localized versions in 56 other countries, according to the Associated Press.
An Internet advocacy group, Bytes for All, has challenged the censorship in Lahore High Court. It has rekindled the issue of how to protect the widespread public sentiment without affecting the flow of information. The activists argue that YouTube is just an example. The Pakistani government has occasionally blocked Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook Inc. as well. Though tech-savvy people can get around the censorship to access the website, most people can’t.
IT minister Anusha Rehman has avoided appearing at court proceedings so far. But this time, Bytes for All expects her to appear in court to testify as to why and how the government should continue to block the video sharing website.
Dilemma before Pakistan’s special committee
Pakistan has formed a special committee to figure out solutions and decide if YouTube should be unblocked. However, Bytes for All believes that there is no technical solution to the problem. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) isn’t incorporated in Pakistan, so it is not subject to the Lahore High Court’s decision. However, the search engine giant did request the Pakistan government bring an intermediary liability protection (ILP) law into effect, and clearly lay out the terms and conditions of taking down the contents from its websites.
Even if the government decides to go ahead with a filtering mechanism, Bytes for All will continue to oppose it as censorship. Installing filters will be a big challenge. A good option will be to launch a localized version of YouTube in Pakistan. That too seems difficult because, in that case, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) will require immunity from legal actions over any offending content. Pakistan doesn’t provide this kind of immunity.