Featured Article from Conferencing

Skype Blamed for the Chaos in Karachi

October 23, 2013

The government of Sindh has already done away with YouTube, and now it has set its sights on Skype. Officials also want to end Whatsapp, Viber and Tango for at least the next three months. Skype provides a fast, cheap means of communication all across the world.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) states that the country has 30 million Internet users out of a total population of 190 million. Over 70 percent of those Internet users are under the age of 30. Skype and the other apps mentioned above are extremely popular in Pakistan.

The problem is that the ease of communication these apps offer comes in handy for terrorists. The Pakistan People's Party-led Sindh government states that terrorists have switched from cellphones to these apps to communicate with each other. The use of these apps makes it difficult for law enforcement to track them. The launch of a new cleanup program against terrorists, extortionists, criminal gangs and target killers in the city of Karachi includes blocking these services.

Both Internet communities and human rights groups are saying this is just an excuse. "It's the biggest blow to the human rights and civic liberties of people,” said Furhan Hussain, who works as a coordinator for advocacy and outreach at Bytes for All (B4A), an Internet rights group.

Back on Sept. 17 of last year, Pakistan’s government blocked public access to video-sharing website YouTube. The ban was supposed to be for just one year, but it has yet to be lifted. 

Muhammad Nawaz, a manufacturer of corrugated sheets in Lahore, says, "There is no limit to the control they exercise as they have also started blocking cell phone services for long hours."

Pakistan’s security establishment claims that mobile services are only blocked when there are confirmed reports of terrorists using cell phones as detonating devices in blasts. Because cell phone battery life lasts a long period of time explosives connected to one are often placed and not detonated for days.

Several organizations have been fighting a battle against Internet censorship. In court now they are also fighting a case against the installation of URL blocking and surveillance software by the government.

The attempted blocking of VoIP services is limited to the Sindh province. "This is highly discriminatory," says Muhammad Asim, a marketing professional in Karachi. Asim uses Skype to join virtual conferences across the globe."My competitors from other provinces and countries will definitely have a decisive edge over me if these services are blocked.”

The Sindh government has filed a request with the federal government to approve the ban on VoIP calling services. A request to have the PTA enforce it has also been made.

Edited by Alisen Downey