ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was informed on Tuesday that a localised domain of the popular video sharing website YouTube, which has hitherto been blocked in the country, had been launched.
The news came as Google formally announced the launch of Urdu language support and local domain services for YouTube in Pakistan. But the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) seems unaware of these developments and maintains that YouTube is still blocked in the country.
A two-judge Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan and Justice Qazi Faez Isa, was told by Additional Attorney General (AAG) Aamir Rehman that a 25-member complaint cell had been set up to monitor offensive websites, which could move to block a site bearing blasphemous or objectionable content on the receipt of a complaint.
To date, the AAG said, PTA had closed over 49,899 objectionable websites, of which 10,500 were said to be blasphemous sites. Another 10,000 websites were proxy sites that helped users access blocked websites. However, the AAG conceded that the websites that used secure protocols (https) could still not be blocked.
“But we now have the technology to remove unwanted content from YouTube,” PTA Director General Nisar Ahmed told the court.
However, the court deplored people’s tendency to use technology for subversive purposes. “There is a difference between other sites and YouTube, which is an educational device that helps people by providing knowledge,” Justice Isa observed, adding that all Internet users should not be punished for the follies of some, who seek out pornographic sites.
“I am unable to understand why people look for blasphemous content on the Internet in the first place,” the judge regretted. “A gun can kill, but it also helps protect the lives of many,” the judge observed, adding that YouTube also had many positive things to offer.
In its order, the bench asked the AAG, PTA DG and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to highlight effective measures dealing with the scourge of pornography and objectionable content on the Internet.
One way to discourage access to objectionable content, the PTA DG said tongue-in-cheek, was to shut down the Internet entirely, but hastened to add that YouTube was a useful tool that was even used by his children for help with their studies.
YouTube in Urdu
In a post on the web giant’s Asia-Pacific blog, Gautam Anand, Director of Operations and Content for YouTube Asia-Pacific, also announced the launch of localised services for Nepal and Sri Lanka.
In his message, Mr Anand said that this would allow users to access “vibrant South Asian content that’s already available on YouTube, which we hope will become just a little easier for people in these countries to find.”
Though most Internet users in Pakistan can only access the website through the secure (https) protocol, the YouTube logo now bears the words ‘PK’.
It is still not entirely clear whether the version of YouTube accessible to users in Pakistan is youtube.com.pk or youtube.com/pk.
Wajahus Siraj of the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan explained, “YouTube PK appears to be a version specifically for Pakistan, but it certainly is not a localised version.”
When contacted, a PTA official told Dawn that “YouTube is still banned in the country” and refused to provide technical details.
According to a source in the Ministry of Information Technology, the government is negotiating with Google over the launch of a localised version of YouTube (youtube.com.pk) for Pakistani users.
“It took a lot of explaining but Google has agreed. It will take some time before it is officially announced that YouTube is accessible again,” the source told Dawn last week.
Fahad Desmukh of Bytes For All, the digital rights group that was the original petitioner in the YouTube case before the Lahore High Court, told Dawn that Google officials had told them they had no agreement with the government over what would be filtered on YouTube’s pk domain.
“The official said that all government requests for removal would be assessed independently at Google’s offices in California. He said that even Google’s team didn’t have a clearly defined policy about what exactly would be filtered and every request would be assessed individually. However it was his understanding that they would not entertain any requests to take down content of political nature,” Mr Desmukh told Dawn.