Pakistan pushes ahead with ban on 'obscene' texts

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
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

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.

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