20 May 2010

Pakistan tightens its Internet Border

Another day, another Internet Border story. This time Reuters reports that Pakistan (or to be precise the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)) has ordered all Pakistan ISP's to disallow domestic access to Facebook. PTA have a history of ordering similar interdictions. For the purposes of my commentary the reason for the blockade is not critical. But for those of you who who want to know and don't want to click the link and read the Reuters report, basically the block has been ordered due to specific content on Facebook that is deemed illegal (to be specific, blasphemous) under the law of Pakistan.

As with the BBC Click news story concerning the UAE that I described here a few days ago, it's interesting to see that the journalist merely reports the circumstances of the site block. No hysterical reporting about how "but the Internet doesn't WORK that way" or anything else of the sort.

An academic colleague of mine complimented me on the last paragraph from my previous post, so I'll repeat it again here for emphasis:

In the past few hundred years the human race has organised itself around the idea that the world is divided into geographical sovereign states. We understand and accept that border guards can deny entry to people, can search luggage, can seize contraband, and can refuse admittance. We should not expect the Internet to be treated any differently.

These sort of sovereign content interdiction scenarios are really only the most obvious example of the Internet Borders phenomenon. It's not only sovereign states who are attempting to impose geographical order on content distribution. Content providers do this as well.

In fact, platform providers now give content providers some tools that are designed to assist content providers in constraining geographical distribution. As I have reported previously, Facebook itself provides "Page" owners with a tool designed to restrict content distribution by country. So Facebook, a content platform, tries to allow content producers, editors, and moderators (pick the adjective of your choice) some measure of control over how content is distributed.

So here's my question for today. How long will it be before Facebook takes one of the following actions in an effort to re-acquire the ability to communicate with its end-users in Pakistan:

  1. Facebook encourages the Page owner with the offending material to restrict the ability of people in Pakistan to access that Page's content;
  2. Facebook forces the Page owner with the offending material to restrict the ability of people in Pakistan to access that Page's content;
  3. Facebook decides that it is in their interests to build a toolkit, and deliver it to the PTA, that will enable the PTA to select and censor Facebook content on a case-by-case basis so that the PTA does not need to block access to the whole Facebook site.
Or perhaps Facebook will make a business decision that it no longer cares about the ability of end users in Pakistan to access the Facebook system. (That is, Facebook could decide to "exit" the Pakistani market.)

Any of these results are possible, and of course there are many other possible outcomes. But no matter what happens I think it's time to acknowledge that Internet Borders are real and they are here to stay.