Pakistan extends online ban to YouTube

A day after banning access to Facebook, Pakistan government goes after YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr

A day after a Pakistani court ordered that access to Facebook be blocked in the country, the government moved to also keep residents from accessing YouTube and pages on a few other Web sites.

A spokesman for Google, which owns YouTube, confirmed to Computerworld on Thursday morning that Pakistan has blocked access to YouTube within the borders of the country. The New York Times reported this morning that Pakistan had also extended its online ban to include specific pages on Flickr and Wikipedia.

The Times quoted a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority as saying that the government had earlier blocked links to specific YouTube pages, but moved to block the whole site because of "growing sacrilegious content."

"We have received reports that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has ordered Internet Service Providers in Pakistan to block access to YouTube," said Google spokesman Scott Rubin. "We are looking into the matter and are working to ensure that the service is restored as soon as possible."

A source close to the situation said Google is talking to Pakistani officials in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, maintains that keeping citizens from accessing a Web site would be very difficult time kfor any government.

"While banning YouTube might help shield Pakistanis from what they consider blasphemy, it's a double-edged sword," said Olds. "No longer will some Pakistanis be able to see countless videos of babies singing pop songs, pets acting like people, or young kids getting hurt doing stupid stunts. In reality, they won't be able to totally stamp out YouTube -- either the viewing or posting of videos."

Olds noted that there simply are too many work-arounds to block any site completely.

"Even the most powerful government will find that it's impossible to completely block access to particular sites on the Internet," he added. "There are plenty of anonymous proxy servers that will allow users to connect to the forbidden sites by bypassing government blocks."

These latest Web site bans come on the heels of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority posting an order on its Web site Wednesday directing all ISPs in the country to block Facebook "until further order." The authority was following a directive made by Pakistan's Lahore High Court after one Facebook group encouraged users to post pictures of the prophet Muhammad.

The Facebook group cited by the court, called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!, has drawn widespread ire because Islam prohibits the drawing of any depictions of its prophet Muhammed.

The Everybody Draw Mohammed Day page, which has drawn many angry comments from those opposing it, notes that, "We are not trying to slander the average Muslim , its not a Muslim/Islam hate page. We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammed depictions, that we're not afraid of them. That they can't take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us to silence."

The Pakistan government, however, is trying to block that page, and by extension all Facebook pages, from reaching its citizens.

Last year, during a harsh government crackdown in Iran following the release of disputed election results, protesters were able to relay information to Internet users outside the country via social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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