Freedom of the Internet? Online Regulation and Censorship in Pakistan

Faheem Zafar, Research Coordinator for Bytes for All Pakistan, analyzes Internet regulation and censorship in Pakistan, focusing on recent attempts to curb civil liberties through Internet filtration.

Despite the appearance of freedom of speech, significant control of today’s traditional media in Pakistan still lies with the establishment and its agencies. Pakistan has a long history of dictatorships, with regimes using intensive oppression to control people’s expression, actions, and identity. Despite some success in Pakistan’s democracy, most recently the exchange of power from one democratically elected government to another, government control over communication channels remain a key issue.

The past decade brought  a powerful, dynamic information flow system into the country – the Internet.  The Internet carried the promise of giving people what they were never allowed to enjoy— the power to make information source choices on their own. According to the latest statistics, Internet penetration in Pakistan is estimated to be well above 15.5%, which is even greater than its neighbor India[1]. Furthermore, youth make up around 65% of Pakistani population, and the majority of Internet users come from this population set[2]. Through the Internet, the stifled youth found fresh air—a new medium where they could express themselves, explore the world around them, and discover the diversity of thoughts that people around the world had to offer, with few restrictions.  Many blogs, citizen’ journalism channels, social media campaigns, and innovative clubs and startups began sprouting over the Internet. Pakistani cyberspace…

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Introducing a New Project: The Economic and Social Impacts of Network Disconnection in Pakistan

The Center for Global Communication Studies (CGCS) at Annenberg is supporting a new study being carried out by The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) in the UK and the NGO Bytes 4 All in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The purpose of the study, the first of its kind, is to gather and present data on the impacts of mobile and internet shutdowns in Pakistan, and on human rights issues such as health, education, and work. The government in Pakistan has often required companies to shut down access to the internet or mobile communications in the interest of public safety and security. This study aims to assist the government and telecommunication companies in developing strategies that are consistent with commitments to protecting human rights and ensuring public safety and security without compromising access to communications. The telecommunications company Telenor Pakistan has agreed to be the subject of the case study, which will reflect on…

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IPO Affiliate Arzak Khan Establishes Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan (iPOP)

iPOP, the Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan, was established by IPO Affiliate Arzak Khan and his team. iPOP’s purpose is to conduct research on ICT policy and regulation in Pakistan and provide stakeholders across sectors “with the information and analysis required to develop innovative and appropriate policies for modern age digital technologies.”[1]

iPOP’s key focus areas include: Society and Internet; Freedom of Expression and Censorship; Broadband Access; and Cyber Security. Over the recent months, iPOP joined the Global Net Neutrality Coalition, hosted a number of internet policy events, built its social media base, and actively posted content online. On November 22nd, iPOP will host an event titled Women’s Privacy and Security on Social Media, which seeks to train and help develop participants’ skills in managing digital security and privacy online and offline. 

To learn more about iPOP please visit



Public Perception of Internet Freedom and Censorship in Pakistan

Arzak Khan, Director and Co-Founder of Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan (iPOP), discusses his research study which aims to investigate in-depth the links between internet usage and public perception towards internet censorship and policymaking in Pakistan.

The aim of this research study is to investigate in-depth the links between internet usage and public perception towards internet censorship and policymaking in Pakistan. Defending the right to freedom of expression has been a long standing tradition in many developed countries, but that has not always been the case in many developing countries where government restrictions on all traditional media are often accepted as a part of life. However, with many Pakistanis getting access to the internet for the first time and becoming connected to a global community, things may be beginning to change. Evidence from the Global South suggests that as a country’s population becomes increasingly connected to the Web, there is growing support for ending government controls and censorship. It is the aim of this project to thoroughly investigate these assumptions and uncover what demand exists for internet freedom and other internet policies.

The increasing use of the internet for democratic movements has resulted in governments around the world cracking down on the web in the form of blanket censorship. Most governments in developing countries such as Pakistan want to regulate the Internet in the way television is regulated. This includes having tighter control mechanisms in the guise of policies protecting national security, religion and society. Before the “Arab Spring,” the Pakistani government was planning on promoting the internet for socio-economic development. However, these policies have not moved forward substantially and broadband diffusion is not taking off as had been predicted. Furthermore, government censorship of the internet has been increasing with the blocking of websites such as YouTube, certain blogs, and Facebook pages. New filtering technologies and mechanisms are being put in place that block not just porn and blasphemous material but also political content and events. Anonymous proxy…

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