1447 extremist URLs blocked as part of crackdown against online terrorism: Interior Ministry Report

ISLAMABAD:  The government has blocked 1447 URLs for hosting extremist content as part of National Action Plan. This was stated in a report shared by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal with Senate Standing Committee on Interior on Friday, January 05, 2017.

The report noted that under the supervision of National Counter Terrorism Authority a multipronged Cyber Counter-Terrorism drive named Tat’heer (meaning: sanitize) had been launched to map radical content and take measures to counter it. In this regard, a website (www.surfsafe.pk) had been set up to allow anyone to report URL with extremist content.

The report also noted that an app was also being planned that would allow common users to record videos and report the URLs where hate speech is being propagated. It is not clear when the app will be launched. According to NACTA report submitted to parliament, it was due to launch by the end of the December 2017.

While exclusively talking to Digital Rights Monitor, a senior NACTA official revealed that NACTA was also working in collaboration with experts and academicians to create a counter-narrative against terrorist content online.  “The idea is to intellectually challenge the extremist narrative online on the pages from where it is being shared,” shared NACTA official. However, he did not disclose the number of people who were taking part in building the narrative.

Also, the official rejected the perception that online terrorism was an urban phenomenon. Rather, millions of people could be reached out through internet. However, he noted that internet was more influential in inculcating extremism rather than commission of actual terrorist act.

In the recent past, different reports have suggested that terrorists are actively using internet to perpetuate their ideology and recruit people. In August 2017, Dawn news investigation revealed that 41 out of 64 proscribed organizations had an active presence over Facebook.

Asked why the government was not able to counter terrorist content online as reported by Dawn, the official admitted that bureaucratic lethargy was one of the reasons that prevented them from actively taking down terror content. “If I have to get software to block content, I have to follow a long tedious process within government to acquire it.”

It is to be noted that under National Action Plan, the government reaffirmed its commitment to counter social media.

On the other, digital rights activists have long complained of the lack of transparency in the way the government is blocking and monitoring terrorist content and have called for transparency in the blocking of content in the name of ‘terror’.

Editor’s Note: It’s important to note here that Media Matters for Democracy, Bolo Bhi and various other civil society groups have put in Right to Information requests to get a list of URLs blocked, to no avail. MMFD has demanded on various platforms for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to regularly publish transparency reports making public all the actions taken to block content.

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