Islamabad, 14th July: The website of TOR Browser seems to have been blocked by multiple internet providers across Pakistan.
Users in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore trying to access the main website that provides users with a link to download the TOR browser found that it was not accessible. The website has been inaccessible for over three weeks now.
Sarah Zafar, a digital rights activist – who was trying to download the browser on June 18th – said that she had wanted to use it more regularly to prevent extensive data collection on websites she visits. However, when she tried to access the main website to download the browser, she realized the website wasn’t available. “I assumed it was just a glitch and I would try again in a bit but I haven’t been able to access it,” said Zafar.
The website remains inaccessible on multiple networks including Nayatel, PTCL, Jazz and Ufone. It is unclear how long the website has been inaccessible in the country, since the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, directly responsible for blocking content in the country, does not issue any public notifications or press releases when it does block a website.
“PTA usually notifies internet service providers to implement DNS blocking, which means that the domain name cannot be found and is consistent with how websites have been blocked in the past,” said Asad Baig, the Director of Media Matters for Democracy, a media dev and digital rights organisation in Pakistan.
The blocking of TOR’s website comes at a time when the PTA has also issued notifications asking for the registration of VPNs. The notice has caused some confusion among the netizens in Pakistan due to the vagueness of the notification, and the lack of clarity and ambit of the registration process. The deadline for the process was initially June 30 but has since been extended to the end of July.
TOR, which stands for The Onion Router, the original name for the project, is a free and open source software that helps anonymise people using the internet by encrypting the information it shares with websites. It can also act as a VPN to hide a user’s information by routing it through multiple servers. It is used by journalists and activists throughout the world to circumvent censorship put in place by governments or to ensure that sensitive data about them is not being collected through the browser.
Amel Ghani is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy and leads special initiatives on media development, digital rights, privacy online and Media and Information Literacy (MIL).