The southern province of Sindh, home to Pakistan’s largest city and commercial center Karachi, will ban voice-messaging services for three months “because terrorists are using them,” the Tribune newspaper reports. The list of services to be banned includes Microsoft’s Skype and Viber. Messaging app WhatsApp may also have to go. According to the paper:
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon confirmed the decision in a press briefing. He said that the networks would be banned because terrorists are using them, having switched over from regular mobile services. Memon said the Sindh government has also requested the federal government to contact these companies and ask them for “access.”
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 25-year-old chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party that rules the state (and son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari) asked complaining youngsters to put up with the ban for the sake of national security:
Dear Burgers, Sorry abt Skype/Viber/Whtsapp. Excuse us while we catch some terrorists and save some lives. SMS for 3months. Sincerely BBZ—
BilawalBhuttoZardari (@BBhuttoZardari) October 03, 2013
“Burgers” is a mocking term for affluent, Westernized young Pakistanis.
Pakistan has a long history of banning technology. The national government still hasn’t lifted its ban on YouTube, put in place to prevent blasphemous material from setting off riots like those in Egypt and Libya last year and at one point threatened to block all of Google instead. It has in the past banned Facebook; virtual private networks, a secure way of connecting to the internet; and in a particularly ill-thought-out move, text messages containing swear words.
On the other hand, while Pakistan is second only to Iran in the National Security Agency’s top targets for surveillance, at least Pakistanis don’t have to worry too much about being spied on by their own government. Zardari justified the three-month ban by explaining that his government does not have the ability to “extract intel” from the apps it is shutting down.