Pakistan pushes ahead with ban on 'obscene' texts

Pakistan pushes ahead with ban on 'obscene' texts

Summary: Operators in Pakistan are being made to stop messages from passing across their networks if they contain one of nearly 1,700 words deemed obscene by the authorities

TOPICS: Government UK

Mobile operators in Pakistan are being forced to block text messages containing words deemed obscene by the country's communications authorities.

Texting hands

The Pakistani Telecommunications Authority has compiled a list of nearly 1,700 words considered too obscene to send over SMS, which must be blocked by operators.

The ban, which came into effect on Monday, applies to SMS messages that include terms such as 'fairy', 'looser', 'harder', 'no sex' and 'Jesus Christ', as well as standard taboo words such as 'fuck'. The Pakistani Telecommunications Authority (PTA) list runs to 1,695 English and Urdu words in total, according to Bytes for All, an internet rights group.

The list was given to Pakistani operators on 14 November for content filtering to begin one week later on 21 November, according to the Economic Times of India.

The new rules are not being welcomed by some network operators and users in the country, and they could result in innocent messages not being delivered simply through poor choice of words, a source at one of Pakistan's operators pointed out in the Indian newspaper's report.

"The filtering is not good for the system and may degrade the quality of network services," he added.

Shahzad Ahmad, the Pakistan co-ordinator for Bytes for All, told ZDNet UK he believes the PTA "never expected it to create such a mess".

Noting that the authority has now pledged to further refine the list, Ahmad said this would not be sufficient to allay the group's fears over censorship and privacy.

"We question and challenge why they even are still considering to filter the content," Ahmad said. "They should immediately announce that they are taking this directive back and refrain from censorship and leave the communication sphere as is."

"We are deeply concerned about censorship and the privacy invasion this action will [cause] the people in Pakistan," he added.

Bytes for All has run messaging tests for a few words to see if the content filtering has begun. At the moment, it looks like the ban is still not in place, according to Ahmad. However, the PTA has said it may take time for operators to set up the necessary infrastructure, so the authority will give them more time to do so, he suggested.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.

Topic: Government UK

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Which is tantamount to saying you are free to express yourselves as long as we approve it first. Or can we really argue that the PTA have a point in saying that in certain instances the copious use of certain words goes overboard and all it wants to do is spare us? Or is it a subtle attempt by authorities to steer public discourse which with the advent of twitter has multiplied a thousand times in a way that authorities can still monitor and affect the public’s discourse? But then again how does the censoring of engagement of topics still come within the ambit of the right to freely express ourselves and can we really argue here in the Western world we have it so good when we are being continuously clipped and watched by authorities when we choose to express ourselves in a public forum?
  • Censorship at it's worst, words fail me
  • Not strictly true, I have a few in mind but they're all on the fairy looser no sex censored list