Twitter unblocks controversial content in Pakistan after review

The company had blocked the content in May at the request of the telecom regulator

Twitter has restored access to content that was last month blocked in Pakistan at the request of the government, in a review of its controversial decision.

The content, including tweets and accounts, had been blocked last month using a Country Withheld Content tool that Twitter announced in 2012. The tool gives it the ability to withhold content from users in a specific country, while keeping it available in the rest of the world.

"We have reexamined the requests and, in the absence of additional clarifying information from Pakistani authorities, have determined that restoration of the previously withheld content is warranted. The content is now available again in Pakistan," Twitter said in an emailed statement.

Twitter was ordered by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to withhold the content as it was considered blasphemous or unethical, according to Chilling Effects, which maintains a record of takedown notices and how companies handle them. Some of the content PTA had objected to referred to Prophet Muhammad.

The social networking company made an "initial decision" on May 18 to withhold the content, drawing criticism from civil rights groups both in Pakistan and abroad.

Twitter's Country Withheld Content tool "is worrisome for citizens in countries where no transparent and legal processes exist for access and content on the Internet," wrote Bolo Bhi, a civil rights group in Pakistan.

Bolo Bhi asked that the process by which requests from governments are entertained by Twitter should be made public, including what is considered a valid complaint, and through what process and policy.

Twitter's initial decision to give in to government demands sets a trend that could start with requests for blocking blasphemous content and then go on to other content that the government does not like, Shahzad Ahmad, country director of Bytes for All, Pakistan, a human rights organization focused on Internet freedom, said Wednesday. "We believe that all Internet platforms with a global presence should develop their policies and principals to have human rights at the core," he added.

Demands for removal or blocking of content considered religiously objectionable is quite common in countries in the region. YouTube, for example, is blocked in Pakistan as the government claims it cannot selectively block on the video-sharing site a controversial movie trailer called 'Innocence of Muslims,' which triggered off unrest in many countries in 2012. In some countries like India, where it had operations, Google blocked the video following the protests, citing its compliance with local laws. Facebook was also under fire recently for temporarily blocking access to the pages of a local rock band, at the request of the government.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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