The first week of October saw the government of Pakistan's Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the country's largest city, propose a ban on voice communication tools such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype for three months due to security concerns.
Various activists and bloggers have taken to Twitter to vent their anger at the government over the plan. As the discussion heats up throughout social media, it's becoming clear that proposing and implementing a ban of this nature on such widely used technology is not going to happen quietly.
The jury is still out on whether the ban will be implemented. Some have worried that recent service disruptions on voice over Viber and WhatsApp meant that the government was going through with the plan. However, conflicting statements from the federal and local governments coupled with the fact that nothing has gone completely dark yet have lead Pakistan's online community to still have hope that the government will not put a ban in place.
Bytes for All, a human rights organization with a focus on communication and information technologies, had the following criticism for the plan in a blog post on 10 October:
The proposed ban is a disproportionate and overly broad measure. It will curb the fundamental rights of people in Sindh province and undermine the use of widespread communication platforms. Instant messaging and VoIP services, such as Skype, Viber, Tango and WhatsApp, are increasingly popular with Pakistani smartphone users looking for affordable means of communication. All of these services are now under threat of being suspended. The Sindh province authorities have not indicated how they will carry out this proposal: whether, for example, they will use filtering or blocking.
Syed Ali Raza Abidi (@abidifactor), a member of the national assembly from Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and a social media user, assessed the situation:
Then it was YouTube, now it will be rest of the Social Media. This won't work unless you completely shut down the internet all over Pakistan
— Syed Ali Raza Abidi (@abidifactor) October 3, 2013
Nida F Sameer (@Nidafsameer), a broadcast journalist previously with Samaa TV, wrote mentioning Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and Shahidullah Shahid:
They can allow EhsanUllahEhsans n ShahidullahShahids 2 communicate media offices n journos via phones. won't allow poor ppl to use free aps.
— Nida F (@nidaFsameer) October 3, 2013
Some companies and individuals in Pakistan, however, chose to see the lighter side of the situation.
The official handle of telecoms company Nokia (@Nokiapakistan) took the opportunity to plug their own messaging services:
— Nokia Pakistan (@NokiaPakistan) October 3, 2013
Anthony Permal (@anthonypermal), a digital marketing expert from Dubai, jested:
Dear Sindh Gov, Pls ban taxes too. Apparently what we're paying can't be traced either.
— Anthony Permal (@anthonypermal) October 3, 2013
The blogosphere has been abuzz with this news as well, with anger and frustration mounting at the government's actions and arguments for “whatever it takes” measures.
Madiha latif with Bolobhi, a local advocacy group, addressed the potential impact of the ban on families who live far apart:
Leaning away from businesses and economics, lets reflect on the impact it may have on citizens who have family and loved ones all around the world. Increase in gas prices has made it too expensive to travel; work/school commitments don’t give one enough time to do so either. Phone bills are higher each day and communication just becomes more expensive by the minute. To combat the cost of communication and maintaining relationships, we use Skype, Viber, WhatsApp etc that provide us with cost effective modes to be able to keep in touch and feel connected. Its as simple as that. We want to stay in touch, and we have the resources to do so. But now, the government has decided to have a say in how we do that as well? What next will the government regulate? Who we can or cannot talk to? It comes back to the same argument posed once before, has the government really become nannies for the citizens? (If so, Im still waiting on that college funding that was promised).
Amena Kamaal of Mindmap communications, a local digital advocacy consultant, pointed out the fallacy of the proposed ban:
Is this agony due to the fact that there are bad guys roaming social networks like whatsapp and viber and plotting things that are against national security? I suppose some of it maybe but to think those same tech equipped bad guys would not be able to side step a ban via proxy is somewhat un intelligent to me. Also more dim witted seems the idea that bad guys exist in sindh only and thus this region must be the only one subjected to this proposed ban.