PTA Seeking Control

Concerning reports have been doing the rounds about the PTA considering a policy that will give it complete control over who can access what on the internet, and in the process of doing so, there will be problematic consequences for both the users and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Currently the PTA is the de-facto authority in the country which controls what websites can be accessed, and it does this by ordering the ISPs to ban sites through a Centralised Domain Name System (C-DNS).

Essentially, what the PTA potentially has in mind is to extend this control and be able to block the websites on its own by taking control over the DNS servers via the C-DNS. Considering how there already exists an effective mechanism to block “illegal” websites, what are the exact motives behind considering such a policy? Many experts are of the view that such a move can curb internet freedom, violate internet privacy of individuals, and also cause serious issues to the provision of internet services around the country.

Data privacy is a key concern because one single entity would have access to search records of each user. In addition to this, such a move will also adversely impact ISPs that have made expensive investments to set up these DNS servers, which would essentially be going to waste.

In response to the criticism and backlash over this potential move, the PTA has put out a clarification that it has not implemented a Centralised DNS Control where-by all resolution will be centrally performed by PTA. Instead, the resolution will be performed at ISP’s end, it added. While this may be the case for now, it is unlikely that these reports were unfounded given that regulatory bodies have shown such inclinations in the past as well. Perhaps this is another instance of a government body backtracking on an ill-thought-out policy, or just putting out a statement to deflect criticism for the time being.

It is also important to note earlier this month it was reported that serious differences had cropped up between the PTA and ISPs as the former wanted to implement the central DNS. Clearly, there can be no smoke without fire. These issues are symptomatic of regulatory bodies that are out of touch with the ongoing global trends, and are incapable of differentiating administration and policing. What we need is an urgent restructuring at the leadership level so that we have tech sector experts calling the shots and not old bureaucrats. Otherwise, the continuation of this trend will effectively stunt Pakistan’s IT sector expansion and advancement in technology and associated services.

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