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A needless ban
[January 12, 2014]

A needless ban

(Express Tribune (Pakistan) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Estimates vary but there are between 30 and 35 million individual subscribers to an internet connection in Pakistan, the majority of those being via a mobile device, either phone or tablet. That figure is going to continue to rise for the foreseeable future. The internet is a crucial business and learning resource nationally, banking and online trading of commodities is galloping ahead and one of the most popular internet websites globally, YouTube, remains blocked to the people of Pakistan. YouTube was blocked around 16 months ago because it hosted a blasphemous film clip and there has been little or no real progress towards getting the ban lifted despite the efforts of assorted civil society groups.

The government needs to take a reality check regarding the internet. Anybody in Pakistan can access YouTube and other `banned’ material by the simple and free application of Virtual Private Network software, and many millions reportedly do just that. By blocking YouTube, however, the greater damage is that in the long run, while the world seems to be moving ahead in terms of using the internet, we are only going backwards.

Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman has spoken of a committee being formed to see how other Muslim-majority countries handle the matter of blocking certain content on the internet. But learning how to responsibly use the internet should actually be done in tandem with actually using it. Blocking it alone only serves to deprive us of the vast educational and entertainment material available on it, as well as a website that links us with and brings us closer to the rest of the world. From something as simple as taking a music video global, to learning from college lectures, YouTube has many advantages. And in this day and age, it would be far better for us to take advantage of them rather than blocking ourselves off from the outside world. The blocking of the website also sets a dangerous precedent and it is about time that the government stop dragging its feet on the issue and restore access to the website.

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