A senior official from the Ministry of Information Technology has revealed that the social media networking site Facebook has termed Pakistan’s request to link all accounts to individual phone numbers “improbable”, maintaining that it will not change its requiring only an email address.

The request itself is a product of the Interior Minister’s offensive against social media communication, and worked its way through government standing committees as a measure that can be used to counter fake profiles and identities posting objectionable content online.

Despite the seemingly above the board agenda behind the request, Facebook and Ministry of Information have fallen on two different sides of the issue. While the government emphasized the inflammatory material in cyberspace, the social media company highlighted Facebook users currently facing legal charges on different counts and moved to protect them further.

It is well that they have done so. While it was already improbable that the global social media company would make its signup requirements more onerous in Pakistan compared to the rest of the world, it is a relief that the also recognize the potential for abuse in this scenario. By coupling Facebook profiles – the most ubiquitously used social media platform – with physical (and traceable) phone numbers, the site would be giving anyone with that information an inordinate amount of power.

Data hackers and cyberspace criminals are always a threat but the real concern here is the government having access to this information. We must do well to remember the recent cybercrime legislation, which gave the government sweeping powers in the bid to control hate speech and blasphemy but is now being used as a tool of state censorship and moral policing.

Instead of looking for ‘big-brother’ like solutions to negligible problems the government should focus on tackling the physical purveyors of hate speech and violence, who make no pains of hiding their identity on social media.