IT minister says kept in dark regarding internet and social media blackout

ISLAMABAD: The telecommunication minister distanced his department from the recent state-imposed social media blackout to quell massive protests around the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan, saying he was not consulted or “taken into confidence” regarding the decision.

Moments after Khan was detained by a swarm of paramilitary Rangers on Tuesday, the interior ministry restricted nationwide access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Mobile data coverage — used by political activists to organise protests on messenger apps such as WhatsApp, but with far larger effects on the wider populace — was also cut.

But supporters of the former prime minister quickly found workarounds, leaving social media awash with calls for protest and shaky handheld clips of thousands of demonstrators clashing with police.

The clampdown — which lasted until late Friday — was a “crass miscalculation” by authorities, according to Shahzad Ahmad, director of digital rights organisation Bytes for All. “It’s only going to work against them.”

However, in an interview with Geo News on Tuesday, Syed Amin ul-Haque of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) clarified that his ministry was not involved in the suspension of mobile internet services, emphasising that the military-dominated Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has operated independently from his division since 2017.

Expressing his views on the situation, the minister stressed that blocking social media or shutting down the internet was not a viable solution to any problem. He further cautioned against relying solely on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to access blocked sites, asserting that a more open-minded approach was needed.

As an alternative solution, Haque suggested the possibility of limiting internet access to specific areas where necessary, rather than implementing a complete blackout. He also highlighted the detrimental impact of internet service blockades on the information technology (IT) sector, leading to significant financial losses.

— With AFP

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