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Pakistan blocks 13,000 grumble flick sites

Ban system pledged after 'obscene' smut complaints soar

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The Pakistani government has ramped up its web censorship regime, blocking access to 13,000 sites it deems “obscene” and hatching plans to filter content in a more systematic way in future.

Parliamentary secretary for IT, Nawab Liaqat Ali Khan, told the country’s National Assembly that the site-blocking came after growing numbers of High Court petitions were filed by individuals calling for ISPs in the region to be stripped of their licences if they failed to block pornographic web content, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan.

In January, for example, a certain Kashif Waseem argued in a court filing that the increasing prevalence of online smut had exacerbated violence against women. The petitioner added that regulators had already issued to ISPs a list of 170,000 websites they should block, but none had complied, Pakistani daily The Express Tribune reported.

Speaking to the National Assembly, the IT parliamentary secretary explained that the government was trying to address the problem.

“At present the government has no mechanism to block all of these websites and are trying to devise a mechanism, however, we take action on complaints,” he reportedly said.

Khan proposed a ministerial committee and sub-committee to look into the matter, but seemed to shy away from implementing Great Firewall of China-style technology to block web content on a nationwide scale.

He said that such an "automated filtration system" would be incredibly expensive and ultimately wouldn't deal with the root cause of pornographic websites hosted outside the country.

This isn’t the first time the Muslim state has sought to censor its citizens. Last November, regulator the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) produced a list of over 1,000 words and phrases deemed to be too racy and ordered mobile service providers to ban any texts featuring the words.

In ramping up its web-blocking efforts, Pakistan is following the lead of China, which last year issued strict new guidelines to web companies to clamp down on porn, internet fraud and online “rumours”.

According to research organisation the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, over one million sites in the country were shut down between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010.

Iran is also said to be developing a large-scale content filtering system similar to that of China, dubbed the Iranian National Internet, while Twitter came in for heavy criticism after agreeing to censor tweets at a country-level if requested to by governments. ®

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