Access responds to Pakistan’s RFP for censorship and surveillance system
10:07am | 2 March 2012 | by Mike Rispoli, English
The government of Pakistan recently advertised in national papers their plans to significantly expand their existing censorship and surveillance system. In response to their request for proposals, Access has called on Pakistan's leaders to abandon their plans to expand their existing censorship regime. Find the full letter here or read it below.
March 2, 2012
RE: PROPOSAL TO THE ICT R&D FUND ISLAMABAD / OPEN LETTER REGARDING PAKISTAN’S NATIONAL URL FILTERING AND BLOCKING SYSTEM;
Dear Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Mr. Syed Aun Abbas, CEO of the Pakistani National ICT R&D Fund,
Today, bidding closes on your recent request for proposals (RFP) to build a new censorship and surveillance system for the nation of Pakistan. Despite the fact that there is already a questionable surveillance and censorship system in place in Pakistan, seeking to extend this capacity further is a display of disregard for the rights of Pakistanis.
I write to you as a representative of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, who are part of a global organization, called Accessnow.org, which is focused on protecting an open and uncensored internet. In a recent survey, our community indicated that preventing online censorship was their number one priority. It is in that context that I submit this letter as a proposal to the ICT R&D Fund Islamabad.
In the RFP, the Ministry of Communications claims that the “Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just last November, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority planned to ban over 1,100 words from being published on the internet or sent via SMS. Despite nominally being a democracy, this systematic denial of the right to freedom of speech and access to information is thoroughly inconsistent with the democratic values that you purport to uphold.
This new system being proposed is no different, and your country’s track record on censorship does not instill confidence that this technology will not be exploited. While countries have a reasonable obligation to prevent spam and malware on their networks, details from the RFP point to a system that goes far beyond these stated claims:
- "The ability for each box to be able to handle a block list of up to 50 million URLs (concurrent unidirectional filtering capacity) with processing delay of not more than 1 milliseconds;"
- "A flexible database that can be locally modified to meet customer needs, and have the ability to add/remove filters or categories;"
- "The inability for anyone to be able to view or access the customer defined categories in the database"
All these details point to a system designed to censor a wide range of content, while simultaneously shrouding what information the government is restricting. The system requested in this RFP confirms the worst fears of civil society with regards to censorship technology: that such systems will fall prone to mission creep and invites the implementation of increasingly sophisticated technologies to achieve the same goals.
Moreover, what’s to stop the current or future governments from using this technology to further silence speech?
Whilst we understand the need of governments to safeguard the morality and security of their societies, blanket filtering of content is a misguided and dangerous strategy. As citizens from around the world, who are not connected to any particular country, government or religion, we believe your existing and proposed expanded censorship regime should be abandoned. Most importantly we ask that you respect the fundamental rights of your citizens, which is the basis for any true democracy.
We look forward to receiving your response to our proposal.
Access is a global movement for digital freedom premised on the belief that political participation and the realization of human rights in the 21st century is increasingly dependent on access to the internet and other forms of technology. For more information, please visit www.accessnow.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.