Pakistan recently announced a bold plan to start filtering text messages and censoring them for obscene words. In addition to censoring the obscene words, it seemed like it was part of the plan to censor words that might be obscene in a weird parallel universe, filthy slurs like “mango,” “athlete’s foot,” and the dreaded “kmart.” Of course, in addition to the funny ones, Pakistan intended to ban some more truly controversial (but understandble) words such as “Jesus Christ” and any reference to sexual orientation or sex in general. That includes “deeper.”
Fortunately, however, the ban has been delayed. Pakistan, or more accurately the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), has no qualms with censoring things, and has been blocking websites for a while now. The delay doesn’t seem to be due to any concern about whether or not it is frivilous to censor the word “hoser” in a private text message, or whether it is wrong to censor private text messages in general. No, the issue seems to be whether or not it is feasible to filter text messages without creating huge delays and requiring crazy manpower, effectively destroying service. There are concerns that all texting would be slowed down due to the need for filtering and that many users could
get screwed be inconvenienced by accidentally using one of the many banned words and getting their text blocked, something service providers really, really don’t want. It probably goes without saying, but there is some public outcry as well.
Apparently, this is ban is completely legal under the Pakistan Telecommunication Act of 1996 which prohibits transmitting messages that are “false, fabricated, indecent or obscene.” But as with all things that are completely legal, the real question is whether or not it’s a good idea.
Service providers who were given the list on November 14th and told to comply within 7 days report that they are currently in discussions with the PTA and have no idea when the ban will actually roll out. It seems that the PTA understands that service providers might have qualms with the censoring and is willing to discuss how to proceed. It’s anyone’s guess, but I’m going to bet “Yeah, no. Just forget it. It was a bad idea anyways,” is not something that is going to come up in that discussion. All you Pakistanis, if you need to text someone about that hole behind the kmart getting deeper, you better do it now, while you still can.
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