Pakistan installs national ‘firewall’ like China’s to monitor social media

Pakistan has begun installing a national firewall across various internet service providers (ISPs) to control social media content. This system, aimed at blocking unwanted material from reaching a broad audience, is already being implemented. A high-ranking official confirmed the firewall’s acquisition and installation, stating, “It is already bought. Now it is being installed and commissioned.”

Previously, Pakistan utilized similar technology primarily to block websites and social media apps. In 2013, filters from the Canadian firm Netsweeper were installed on the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), the country’s largest ISP, which manages over 65% of Pakistan’s submarine cable connections.

The new firewall will scrutinize information from various internet protocol addresses. According to an official involved in the planning, the firewall has dual purposes: “The national firewall will serve two purposes: identify the locations from where the propaganda material is being originated and the subsequent blockade or diminished coverage of those accounts.” He emphasized, “The main focus will remain on locating the source of such propaganda to nip the evil in the bud.”

A keyword filtering system will be part of the setup to detect content deemed undesirable or harmful to national security. This filter will act as an information inspector, rendering objectionable posts invisible to external users. All dissenting voices, both domestic and international, will undergo inspection before becoming visible.

This filtering system will apply to social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and X (formerly known as Twitter). Additionally, the government is preparing measures to prevent the misuse of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Citizens may be required to inform the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) about their VPN usage, with penalties for non-compliance.

The government has blocked X/Twitter for several months, leading many users to access it through VPNs. Although several VPNs were initially blocked, this action was halted due to backlash from the corporate sector, which relies on VPNs for secure communication.

Despite the ongoing use of VPNs, a government official defended the X/Twitter blockade, noting a significant reduction in usage from 4.5 million to 2.4 million users. This drop has impacted Twitter’s business in Pakistan and reduced bot activity. Additionally, the social media company has begun responding to government demands more attentively.

One notable demand was the blocking of the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society (PESS) account, previously controlled by Maj (r) Adil Raja. Although no longer an office-bearer, Raja continued to tweet from the account, criticizing the current army leadership. Initially, X/Twitter did not respond to PTA’s requests to block the account, but it has since complied.

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