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Pakistan’s PM overturns Wikipedia ban, seeks end to whack-a-mole content blocks

Cabinet committee gets to find a solution after years of bans didn’t achieve a lot

Pakistan’s years-long whack-a-mole attempts to prevent its citizens seeing some content online gone up a level, after the nation’s prime minister intervened to overturn a fresh ban on Wikipedia.

As The Register has recently reported, Pakistan's Telecommunications Authority (PTA) last week downgraded access to the crowdsourced encyclopedia after demanding supposedly blasphemous material be removed, and threatened a ban if it was not taken down.

A ban duly followed, prompting the Wikimedia Foundation – operator of Wikipedia – to protest and point out that Pakistani authorities should request site editors address the situation in line with the encyclopedia’s policies.

Now Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has intervened to reverse the ban.

The PM convened a committee comprising Pakistan’s ministers for Law and Justice, Economic Affairs and Political Affairs, and for Minister for Information and Broadcasting, to consider the ban.

The unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits

“The above Committee held its meeting and was of the considered opinion that the Wikipedia was a useful site/portal which supported dissemination of knowledge and information for the general public, students and the academia,” reads a statement circulated on Twitter . by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb. “Blocking the site in its entirety was not a suitable measure to restrict access to some objectionable contents / sacrilegious matter on it. The unintended consequences of this blanket ban, therefore, outweigh its benefits.”

The document goes on to reveal that the PM has convened a new cabinet committee to consider the matter, whether the PTA was right to block Wikipedia, offer recommendations on how to control “unlawful online content in a balanced manner”, and tackle the following challenge:

To explore and recommend alternative technical measures (or removal or blocking access to objectionable content posted on Wikipedia and other online information sites, in view of our social cultural and religious sensitivities, on the touchstone of proportionality.”

Those jobs appear to add up to a recognition that Pakistan’s many bans on content that offends local mores haven’t stopped such material from proliferating, or evading blocking mechanisms.

The Register will watch with interest to see what measures Pakistan devises, not least because it has ignored the simple expedient of making or seeking edits to Wikipedia pages it dislikes, and a deny-list of Wikipedia articles would not be hard to implement. ®

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