Understanding not banning is required

This October the government of Sindh proposed a three month ban on whatsapp viber and skype, citing concerns of security as voice over ip calls made on these social media applications could not be traced or monitored They claimed that nefarious elements are using these networks to conduct criminal or terrorist activities.

Obviously this has been met with an uproar from the online community in this nation as it doesn’t merely consist of a few elite anymore but up to 30 million people by last PTA (Pakistan telecommunications authority) reports. This large group is used to communicating with their loved ones here and abroad at the touch of a button, many of them use these communication tools to run very successful businesses and pay taxes as well. So naturally they want to know why their freedom of expression online is being met with such disdain by the authorities.

The response from the federal level at least has been encouraging; with interior minister Chaudry nisar assuring the public that “no decision” has been taken on Sindh governments application to ban these communication platforms yet. However good intentions aside the evidence of the use of “finfisher” surveillance software in Pakistan on which an advocacy group “Bytes for all” has also lodged a writ petition in the Lahore high court sets of several alarm bells for the future of social media in Pakistan. To put it simply “Finfisher”  produced by Gamma international a uk based company is notorious for its advanced spying and surveillance capabilities. It can be installed remotely through innocent software updates of regular applications like itunes and firefox or through an email with code in it. It can then access all stored information, record skype sessions and enable remote activation of cameras and microphones.  This evidence has been provided by Citizen lab and privacy international and means that although the government claims it does not have the capability to eavesdrop on social media there is indeed some entity that is doing just that in Pakistan.

Similar technologies have been in use in other places in the world, more particularly in places of  human rights movements such as Egypt and Bahrain as reported by Blomberg in July 2012.  Does this mean that the government is under threat of an uprising in this neck of the woods? Perhaps, but it can also mean that the government is increasingly aware of this new medium of super speedy communication and wants to control it or shut it down. If we might recall social media is the only platform in Pakistan as of late where human-interest stories or leaks to make many a brow sweat are highlighted. Social media is also the only platform in Pakistan, which has been under sustained attack both from forces in the mainstream press trying to dis credit it, or from confusion stemming from lack of understanding of the motivation behind it.

However gone are the days in which the flow of information can be controlled. In todays world of smart phones and smart watches as technology gets cheaper and data speeds gets faster people adapt very quickly and any attempt to cause obstacles is usually sidestepped with ease. That is obviously not going to dissuade any government from trying though, but the point is that soon the word social is going to also become a thing of the past and digital media is going to be so interwoven in our everyday lives and mainstream that it is going to be impossible to switch it off..unless we want to cut off all communication leading to possible anarchy. In fact governments should try to harness this communications tool rather then be so distressed by it, for after all it is just a tool and not responsible for the intentions of its user.

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