#Mumbai – After sexual harassment at workplace, woman faces online slander #Vaw


MEENA MENON, The Hindu, April 11,2013

 

First it was sexual harassment at workplace. Next comes a slanderous campaign on the Internet.  For this former employee of auditing firm KPMG, life has become hell since 2007. Now Aditi (name changed) is fighting with the Mumbai cyberpolice who are doing little on her 2012 complaint seeking action against websites which hosted offensive and abusive comments against her.

Trial yet to begin

While the sexual harassment case led to the arrest of a KPMG partner in 2007 and the filing of a charge sheet in December that year, the trial is yet to begin. Aditi has little doubt that the defamation in the cyber realm is an extension of workplace harassment. She had to wage a fight to ensure that the defamatory comments were removed by the Department of Telecom after a magistrate’s order in December 2012, three years after her complaint.  The cyberpolice are yet to complete their probe into a first information report registered against Google, a website 498a.org and an individual whose comments appeared on that website.

In September 2007, after a Mumbai daily revealed her name while reporting on the sexual harassment case, she was subjected to verbal abuse on the Internet. She filed a complaint with the cybercrime cell on October 9, 2007. While the comments were removed from public view soon after, they started appearing on other sites like 498a.org and Save the Indian Family (SIFS).  She wrote to Google, which removed the links to websites like 498a.org. Later, when the comments reappeared, Google wrote to her saying it could not block the URLs.

‘Total lie’

A second complaint was filed at the cyberpolice station at Bandra in 2010. The  police closed the earlier complaint terming it a civil one,  without informing her, stating the accused was not identified. Aditi claims this is a complete lie as her 58-page complaint had given details of the websites that carried the comments. She filed a fresh complaint in April and May 2012 against Google and Nabble, on whose websites the offensive comments reappeared, and thereafter the links were removed from Nabble. She sent legal notice to Google for not deleting the links.

Thanks to the extensive cyberdefamation, Aditi now finds it difficult to get a new job and she is being termed a ‘legal terrorist’. “I am only fighting for my right to dignity but such baseless slander with no action by the police created lot of problems,” she says.

Police can block websites

Under Section 69 A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, the police have the power to block offensive websites, but they did nothing. She was made to file yet another complaint in May 2012 on the same issue. The defamatory comments were  removed by the DoT after the Chief Metropolitan Court passed an order in November 2012 directing Cert-In (the Computer Emergency Response cell under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) to block 10 URLs. The police finally registered an FIR only in November 2012 against an individual whose name and email ID appeared with offensive comments on nabble.com, unidentified persons who wrote abusive remarks on google.com and 498a.org. They were charged under Section 500 of the IPC and Sections 34 and 66 A, B and C of the Information Technology Act. She filed a query under the Right to Information Act on the progress in the case, and the police replied in January 2013 that they could not give any detail since it would impede investigation. When The Hindu contacted senior inspector N.K. More of the cyberpolice station, who is investigating the case, he declined to comment.

The police claim they cannot make headway since 498a.org and other sites are not responding to their summons. However, The Hindu got detailed email responses from 498a.org and an organisation called Rakshak Foundation, which is connected to it. Piyush Singh, a volunteer from Rakshak, in response to emailed questions, called from the U.S. and admitted that the cyberpolice had sent the organisation a letter in July 2012. It called up the police last year to clarify that it would forward the police complaint to 498a.org.

Both connected

Investigations reveal that a link on 498a.org marked ‘donate’ takes you to Rakshak saying: “We need your help and support to keep actively helping falsely implicated and stressed families for free. All Donations are made to Rakshak Foundation (registered NGO at California, USA), which supports 498a.org. Rakshak Foundation is 501(c)(3) certified and hence the donations are tax-exempt. Rakshak Foundation’s EIN # is 71-1033875.”

A phone call to a number listed on the 498a.org website in Mumbai elicited the response that they were volunteers only to help people and all administrative decisions were taken by the Rakshak Foundation in the U.S.  Mr. Singh said Rakshak collected funds for 498a.org since it was a website and not an organisation. Rakshak started public policy research in 2006-07 and found out about 498a.org.

Volunteer’s claim

However, a volunteer from 498a.org who wished to remain anonymous, said in an email interview that the website was not connected to the Rakshak Foundation.  The website relied on volunteers to help those who are aggrieved by the misuse of 498a. Since 498a.org is a website, donations used to be collected through Rakshak. “Rakshak is not funding us. 498a.org and Rakshak are not connected.” At least this volunteer has not seen emails from the cyberpolice seeking information and said 498a.org did not have any interest in defaming anyone.

Aditi managed to obtain, on her own, a lot of details including of the people who had founded Rakshak.  Her poser to the police: Whether a website registered outside India can carry out activities in India through volunteers and get away without complying with the law of the land?

 


  • Thanks to cyber defamation, she finds it difficult to get new job and is being termed ‘legal terrorist’
  • Police claim websites are not responding to their summons

 


 

Mumbai cyber police yet to act on her complaints against websites

 

Quashing Dissent: Where National Security and Commercial Media Converge #FOE #FOS


Vol – XLVIII No. 09, March 02, 2013 | Sukumar Muralidharan, EPW

Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression in India today, seem a distant, almost illusory promise when the politics of the street — and a loud and seriously misinformed media – are final arbiters of fundamental rights and the defence of privilege is becoming the dominant motif of state policy.

Sukumar Muralidharan (sukumar.md@gmail.com) is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.

Between February 14 and 15, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in the Government of India issued five separate orders to internet service providers (ISPs), blocking access to no fewer than 164 URLs or web addresses where specific content is hosted. All five were issued in seemingly unquestioning and unreserved compliance with ex parte orders emanating from courts. No reasons were given, though as things transpired, these were not very difficult to figure out.

Of the five orders, three were issued with clear intent to clamp down on protests in Kashmir after the February 9 execution of one-time militant Mohammad Afzal Guru.  Physical movement in all of Kashmir had been blocked by a pre-emptive curfew imposed early that morning. As news of the execution filtered through, local news channels and newspapers were told to suspend operations. And though the internet remained available through broadband, the more widely used modes of access in the valley — mobile telephones and wireless datacards – were disabled. The information lockdown persisted five days in the case of newspapers and an entire week for internet users. For local TV news channels, it still continues. But through the pores in this blanket of censorship, the people of Kashmir were still managing to make their anger and bitterness heard. The DoT directive, calling specifically for the shutting down of a number of pages on the social networking site “Facebook” was obviously about shutting that source of dissent.

An information blockade imposed on a region where rights to life and liberty have been in suspension might seem a lesser injustice, though it is part of the same apparatus of repression that particularly targets any possibility that an occupied people may conduct a social dialogue that reaches beyond immediate constraints of location and space. Yet for all that, there was nothing really unusual about the effort to tighten the information blockade on Kashmir, a region that has long been in a state of exception in the Indian political map, where even the pretence of guaranteed rights and entitlements does not apply. Indeed, a similar blockade on mobile telephone services had been imposed in the valley just a fortnight prior, while the rest of India was celebrating the anniversary of its republican constitution.

A second category of website blocks ordered in DoT’s most recent round of sweeping censorship, applied against the mimicking or parodying of important public institutions, such as the Bombay High Court. Few dissenting voices were raised here. If anything, there may have been some reservations about the recourse to heavy-handed censorship, where the task of sifting between the authentic and the fake, might well have been left to the judgment of the internet user , worries that the DoT action may have cast the rare visitor to these sites as an infant in need of the guiding hand of a nanny state.

The IIPM related blocks

What really raised eyebrows and triggered a war of attrition on the internet was the third category of order issued by the DoT, blocking seventy-three specific web addresses ranging over a total of fifty websites. The formal order addressed to all ISPs, began with a peremptory, “it has been decided”, much like an edict issued from a sovereign that is beyond challenge. After listing the sites to be censored, it entered a plea for secrecy, uncharacteristic for a sovereign acting with absolute authority. Letters of compliance to be filed by all those at the receiving end of the edict were not to mention the identity of the blocked URLs.

If the intent of that caution was to conceal the identity of the guiding hand behind this extraordinary measure of information denial, it did not go far. The common element in the seventy-three web addresses that were blocked was soon discovered to be the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), an establishment with a pervasive presence in the media, despite its uncertain provenance and rather anomalous status within the landscape of higher education, where it claims to belong. Indeed, the IIPM advertising budget, the envy of most other institutions in the same category, wins it a high degree of exemption from scrutiny in the mainstream media. No such privilege though, is granted within the alternate discourse of the social media. Indeed, that is where the problem was clearly seen to lie.

Cryptic in its content and opaque in terms of its legal basis, the DoT order was traced by the small but vigorous community of free speech advocates on the internet, to emanate from an order by a court in the city of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. For the most part, it applied to blogs and independent initiatives by consumer groups and civil society actors to promote a dialogue on issues of public concern: such as the quality of service offered by various civic and commercial institutions. The IIPM, unsurprisingly for an institution with a high media profile, had come in for some searching scrutiny and been found wanting: several of the postings on these sites, drawing on first-hand experiences of the services (or lack of it) that it offered, were trenchant in tone and content.

It emerged soon afterwards that the Gwalior court had issued its order under provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC, section 499) dealing with the offence of defamation and the Information Technology Act (IT Act, section 69) which enabled government authorities to demand the blocking of certain sites by ISPs and intermediaries such as Google and Facebook. Evidence that the court had applied the tests of intent, accuracy and public interest that are thepreliminaries mandated by law before sanctions are imposed for defamation, was conspicuously lacking. And what literally leapt out in the DoT edict was the very first URL on the list, which belonged to a public institution, the University Grants Commission (UGC). In a notice issued in July 2012, ostensibly in compliance with a directive issued by the Delhi High Court in ongoing litigation, the UGC had recorded its finding that the IIPM was not a university under applicable law. It was in other words, not empowered to grant degrees in business management or any other discipline of study.

In holding the UGC liable for defamation, the Gwalior court obviously omitted any serious engagement, either with the history of litigation involving the IIPM, or with the law. Section 499 of the IPC is explicit about certain exceptions where in circumstances to be judged by the courts, the offence of defamation would not apply: these include, the “imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or mentioned,” the “public conduct of public servants” and the “conduct of any person touching any public question”. Clearly, any assessment that the UGC may have made about the academic credentials of the IIPM, when communicated to the public, would potentially fall within the scope of these exceptions. That the Gwalior court overlooked these aspects of the law points towards an egregious omission.

“Hacktivist” Response

Internet activists were quick to wreak vengeance. On Friday 16, the website of the IIPM was hacked and put out of service for a limited period of time. And under pressure from a growing chorus of outrage, the owner and executive head of the institution, Arindam Chaudhuri, took to the social network to explain his actions. The court order applied only to website content that was defamatory in an explicit sense, he pleaded. Satirical sites may have been included in an over-broad sweep of content pertaining to the IIPM, but remedies would be quickly instituted once a closer examination was made. As for the UGC and one other public institution in the education sector – the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) – Chaudhuri was scathing in his assessment: “I should say UGC and AICTE are organisations full of bribe-seeking corrupt officials where, even at the top, they have a track record of being caught red-handed and being jailed. … I suspect that UGC – at the behest of some of our petty competitors with dirty past records of filth and cheating, and public notices against them – had been deliberately spreading misleading information about IIPM to hurt its business interests and had even gone to the extent of falsely calling IIPM a fake university”.

There is much that is specious in the IIPM explanation and a great deal that the judiciary has to explain about its manifestly perverse order. Within days of the DoT implementing its blocking order, the Department of Information Technology (DIT) – a partner department under the Ministry of Communications – resolved on appealing it at the appropriate judicial forum. That may well have been too little too late. As the senior advocate and legal scholar Rajeev Dhavan has pointed out, in all such matters “the real mischief takes place right at the beginning … when injunctions are freely granted to prevent the publication or dissemination of an existing or proposed publication”.

The IIPM is a practised hand in censorship through legal injunction. In June 2011, it filed suit against Caravan, a monthly magazine of political and cultural commentary, for the sum of Rs 50 crore (INR 500 million), after the magazine had in its February 2011 issue, featured an article titled “Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri Made a Fortune Off the Aspirations — and Insecurities — of India’s Middle Classes”. The article was a substantive pre-publication excerpt from a book by U.S.-based journalist Siddhartha Deb, due for publication in July 2011. The IIPM lawsuit named the author, the publisher Penguin Books (India) and the internet search portal Google (India) as respondents, other than Caravan, accusing them of “grave harrassment and injury”. The lawsuit was filed not in Delhi, where both the IIPM and Caravan are based, but in Silchar town in the north-eastern state of Assam. IIPM was the second petitioner, the first being a Silchar businessman known to be associated with the institute as a recruiter.

At the first hearing of the case, the civil court in Silchar granted the IIPM a preliminary injunction, enjoining Caravan to remove the impugned article from its website. This decree was issued ex parte, without any pre-hearing notice to the magazine. The article was since taken off the Caravan magazine website, though it has been retained in the Internet Archive. In the most recent round of court-ordained censorship, the magazine’s July 2011 announcement that it intended to fight the injunction was blocked, but then republished under a different URL.

In October 1972, India’s Supreme Court heard a case brought by Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd (BCCL), publishers of the Times of India – and a number of other large newspaper enterprises – challenging a newsprint rationing order introduced to deal with a situation of acute scarcity. The official plea entered on behalf of the rationing was that the larger newspaper groups would, if allowed unfettered access to the market, buy up all the supplies available, depriving smaller players – and with this, large sections of the Indian population – of the means to speak and be informed. The judgment in the case of Bennett Coleman and Co Ltd v Union of India is one of historic significance, since it remains the most authoritative statement yet, on how the constitutional guarantees of free speech devolve into the narrower construct of media freedom. Yet this is a judgment that remains strangely inconclusive, since in addressing the issue of the free speech right, the majority opinion of the Court seemed to oscillate rather indecisively, between a notion of free speech as a privilege enjoyed by the few, and a broader conception of the unreserved exercise of the right by all.

In deciding the case, Justice A.N. Ray spoke for the majority and observed that the “individual rights of freedom of speech and expression of editors, directors and shareholders, are all expressed through their newspapers”.  But then a few pages on, the majority opinion effectively widened the ambit of the right: “It is indisputable that by freedom of the press is meant the right of all citizens to speak, publish and express their views. The freedom of the press embodies the right of the people to read. The freedom of the press is not antithetical to the right of the people to speak and express”.

Having elevated media freedom to a higher plane and rendered it into an entitlement enjoyed by all citizens, the majority in the Bennett Coleman case had little difficulty striking down newsprint rationing as a violation of article 19 guarantees on free speech. The rest of the majority judgment in the matter clung very closely to the liberal orthodoxy on the right to free speech: that governmental regulation is an evil more invidious than private monopolies. When it looked at the prospect of “monopolistic combination” in the press, it was only to rule it out. And even if the likelihood did arise, newsprint allocation could not be a feasible “measure to combat monopolies”.

Of special significance in this context is the lone dissenting judgment delivered from a bench of five judges, by Justice K.K. Mathew, who explicitly conceded the possibility of a conflict between the public interest and the profit motivations of the press. Using a “theory of the freedom of speech” that essentially viewed it in terms of twin entitlements — to speak and be informed – Justice Mathew observed that “the distribution of newsprint for maintenance of (newspaper) circulation at its highest possible level .. (would).. only advance and enrich that freedom”. As a constitutional principle, “freedom of the press” was “no higher than the freedom of speech of a citizen”. The problem at hand was one of bringing “all ideas into the market (to) make the freedom of speech a live one having its roots in reality”. In pursuit of this ideal, it was necessary as a first step, to recognise “that the right of expression is somewhat thin if it can be exercised only on the sufferance of the managers of the leading newspapers”.

Freedom of expression in other words, also involved the right of access to media space. And this requirement would be met only through the “creation of new opportunities for expression or greater opportunities to small and medium dailies to reach a position of equality with the big ones”. This was as important, in Justice Mathew’s judgment, “as the right to express ideas without fear of governmental restraint”. What was required was an interpretation of the free speech right which recognised that “restraining the hand of the government is quite useless in assuring free speech, if a restraint on access is effectively secured by private groups”.

Indian Media – An Echo Chamber for the elite

For all the appearances of growth and diversification that it presents, there is increasing worry that the Indian media with its advertisement-driven revenue model is becoming an echo chamber where those with economic clout and purchasing power talk among themselves, leaving out the voices of the vast majority. Citizens who happen to inhabit the zones of exception, such as Kashmir and he north-east, are excluded from participation by virtue of their infirm commitment to what is by elite consensus, deemed the “mainstream” ethos of Indian nationalism. And the socially and economically disadvantaged in other parts, are inconsequential because they are of no interest to the advertiser who sustains the media industry bottomline.

In this context, the growing number of social media users offers a potent challenge to the hegemonic narrative that emanates from the mainstream media. The most articulate voices here emerge from the top two or three percentiles of the population, who have access to the estimated 14 million broadband internet connections. But within this narrow stratum, there is already more dissent against the news priorities and editorial policies of the mainstream media, which in terms of reach addresses a multiple – though not a very large multiple – of broadband users.

More worrying for those who believe media freedom is a great idea as long as a few wise men control the message, is the rapid growth of internet and social media users through the mobile phone network. This is a growing constituency in Kashmir, the north-east and indeed, in several regions of the most bitter political contestation in India: territories where the promise of the minority judgment in the Bennett Coleman case is actually being sought, that media freedom is not just a right to be exercised on “sufferance” of those who own newspapers or the airwaves, but a right that all citizens have to speak and be heard, even beyond limitations of location and space.

There is a long history of repression of this manner of free speech, but few instances where sanctions have been imposed on speech that meets every authentic criterion of “hate”. This is unsurprising, since this category of speech usually emanates in the Indian context, from Hindutva and other such supposedly “mainstream” participants in the national consensus. The February crackdown on websites is probably just a minor punctuation mark in the long-term evolution of the doctrine of “legitimate” repression of basic rights, when exceptions to the rule of free speech could be decreed. It is nonetheless, a point at which some clarity is imparted. Constitutional guarantees seem a distant, almost illusory promise when the politics of the street — and a loud and seriously misinformed media – are final arbiters of fundamental rights and the defence of privilege is becoming the dominant motif of state policy. This most recent information blockade targets political dissent from the fringes of “mainstream” nationalism and also a prospective challenge to the commercial calculus of the “mainstream” media.  It shows how close the convergence is, between the propaganda needs of the national security state and the commercial compulsions of the mainstream media. Finally though, what is most apparent about this new effort at controlling the message is its utter futility, since the avenues through which people can speak and be heard are multiplying in such diverse ways, that information repression no longer is an option for states anxious to preserve control.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE- 250,000 URLS takeN down by Google EVERY WEEK #Censorship


Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

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CONTACT

Fight for the Future

Tiffiniy Cheng

Holmes Wilson

press@fightforthefuture.org

            (614) 465-6371      

            (508) 474-5248      

May 24, 2012

Internet Freedom Group Fight for the Future Responds to Google’s Transparency Report

Google’s latest transparency report reveals that copyright holders are taking down over 250,000 URL‘s*, more than the total for all of 2009.

Even more troubling, these numbers include cases where companies abused copyright to silence legitimate speech: criticism of their products, for example.

In 2011, Greenpeace uploaded a video to YouTubecriticizing Nestle for its unfriendly environmental practices. Nestle lobbied to have the video removed on grounds of copyright infringement.

” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-20000805-36.html%5D

Copyright law is insanely out of date– it’s even illegal for kids to lip sync pop songs on Youtube.” said Fight for the Future’s Holmes Wilson, “Worse, we know there are many cases where companies have abused copyright law to silence legitimate criticism and political speech.”

“Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (MCA) got sued days after his death for a sample he used decades ago,” said Wilson,  “Today’s young artists are more likely to live in fear of copyright law than think they will benefit from it– and these are the people copyright was intended to support.”

Examples of copyright holders overstepping their ownership online include cases like Brian Kamer, whose video was taken from YouTube, shown on The Jay Leno Show without his permission, and subsequently removed from YouTube with a copyright claim from Jay Leno’s parent company NBC Universal.

Kamer’s open letter to Jay Leno is currently going viral:

Dear Jay Leno,

First off, my intention is not to fight you on this. You have more cars than I have dollars, and so I know I don’t stand a chance legally, and on top of that, I don’t really understand how legal stuff works. But the truth is you kind of fucked up my shit and I need to talk to you about it.

In 2007 my good friend Travis Irvine was running for mayor of his home town, Bexley, Ohio. He asked for help making him a funny campaign commercial. So together, me and my pal Travis composed, performed and recorded an original campaign jingle onto my four track (we did, not you). Then, I directed and shot a silly music video for that song featuring Travis strolling about his town, looking patriotic, friendly and mayoral. Remember that video?

I think you might, because in 2009 Travis called me about it. He was in a frenzy and needed to know if I’d seen your show that night, which of course I had not. You see, Travis had received a call from a high school friend who claimed to have seen Travis on The Jay Leno Show. So the next day, we both watched your show on the internet, and sure enough our video was in a piece at the end. I remember it was at the end because I had to watch the whole show to find it and boy that is a long show, it felt like I was watching forever. How long was your show, like three hours? During the bit you played five stupid local campaign commercials and one of those commercials was the video I was telling you about earlier. After you played our video on national television, you said something like, “I love that song!” as the audience cheered in approval. So thank you for that. It was nice of you.

Anyway, it was a good laugh for Travis and I, but we forgot all about it a few weeks later. End of story, right? Apparently not, Mr. Leno.

I’ll have you know that I was searching for our said video on YouTube, and it turns out that the video has been blocked. Blocked by you! Isn’t that fucked up?

Your company NBC just up and blocked our video and claimed that we are copyright infringers! But we are not! We made it! And this is the video that you said you loved! Now, if you try to watch our video (and again this is the video that had nothing to do with you until you used it in your show without asking) on YouTube it’s just a big black sign that basically says, “the makers of this video stole this video from NBC, so you can’t watch it!” Jay, what in the hell is going on here?

Read more here

Grassroots activists in Pakistan have set an example for digital rights activism.


Jillian C. York . Aljazeera

Fighting online censorship when legal action fails

A new plan for internet filtering could put Pakistan on par with Iran and Saudi Arabia, activists say [EPA]

San Francisco, CA – When, in late February, Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority (PTAissued a call forproposals on a large scale internet filtering system to allow for the blocking of up to 50 million URLs (with, it should be noted, a processing delay of “not more than 1 milliseconds [sic]”), Pakistani rights activists were more than a little peeved. While censorship (either online or offline) in the Islamic Republic is no new thing, the new move – presumably designed to entice Western companies to the country – would potentially put Pakistan on par with countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia in terms of sites blocked.

Of course, Pakistan is not China, Iran or Saudi Arabia. It is, at least in theory, a democracy, with freely held elections. And yet, when it comes to the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression, citizens find themselves increasingly with no say in the matter.

Grassroots advocacy

Therefore, when faced with the PTA’s latest plans, grassroots organisations knew exactly what they had to do. Rather than appeal to their representatives, they took to the internet, calling on technology companies not to respond to the call for proposals.

http://www.aljazeera.com/AJEPlayer/player-licensed-viral.swfAre we entering an age of cyber-censorship?

Their efforts were echoed and supported by a number of international organisations, including the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Article 19, the Global Network Initiative, Access, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (where I work), and made it to the pages of theNew York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others. As a result, a number of technology companies, including Cisco and McAfee SmartFilter (both of which, it should be noted, sell their censorship wares to other countries), made statements refusing to sell to the PTA.

Advocacy group Bolo Bhi has been vocal in their opposition of the filter. In one blog post, they explain how the system would affect citizens, noting: “Such a system will give the government extra muscle to go after ‘activists’ – ‘liberals’ – ‘troublemakers’ – You and I. Anyone who is a hindrance, becomes a target.”

Indeed, such a system would likely have the same capabilities as Bahrain’s, which allowed authorities to intercept emails and SMS, which were then read aloud to detainees, or Syria’s, notoriously used to spy on activists. Surveillance of that degree is dangerous and has no place in any of these countries, let alone one that purports to be democratic.

All of this pressure led the PTA to backtracking; on March 19, an article in the International Herald Tribune-affiliatedExpress Tribune declared the filtering plans shelved. As Islamabad-based digital rights group Bytes for All quicklynoted, however, the news item was not followed up by a press release from the government, leading them to believe that the piece was “a strategic move to put an end to the raging protests”.

Like Bytes for All, Bolo Bhi doesn’t see the fight as being over. In a recent letter addressed to the Ministry of Information Technology, the ICT Research and Development Fund, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and signed by eight additional organisations, the group wrote:

While it has become common knowledge that surveillance and censorship technologies are often used in Pakistan, the extent to which this is taking place has only recently become apparent with public reports on censorship and surveillance technologies by a large number of international companies. We also understand the Pakistan government may attempt to involve an academic institution in developing the system, making the biggest victim of this technology also a contributor.

A model for digital rights activism

Born from the bottom up and supported by (not, crucially, initiated by) international organisations, the efforts of local groups serve as a model for digital rights activism. Their actions were strategic, targeting the appropriate stakeholders, their collaboration with international groups built on consensus.

Furthermore, Bytes for All and Bolo Bhi were well-placed to understand the limitations of legal efforts and instead, chose the best possible path for advocacy: targeting the very businesses their government sought to attract.Another element of these groups’ success is in bypassing the “us vs. them” mentality, a strategy discussed in the 2010 anthology Digital Activism Decoded.  In the book, chapter authors Sem DeVillart and Brian Waniewski wrote, “It is tempting for organisations to adopt competitive strategies toward peers engaged in like or complementary efforts,” recommending that groups engaged in online advocacy avoid the competitive structure of corporations.

As a result, the IT Ministry has verbally committed to issuing a statement against the filtering system, says Bolo Bhi CEO Sana Saleem, who adds that they had been reluctant to meet with civil society groups directly in the past.

“I strongly feel that the campaign success is because of consistent pressure from organisations globally,” wrote Saleem in a recent e-mail, “Even though we have still only received verbal commitment, I believe that the success lies in how we planned the campaign to focus on issues such as businesses, trade, academia and economy steering the debate from the more controversial issues of blasphemy.”

As sure as the PTA will continue their attempts to censor, the efforts of groups like Bytes for All and Bolo Bhi show no signs of abating. And with the support of international groups – which help by raising their voices to a fever pitch – they may just win.

Jillian C York is director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. She writes a regular column for Al Jazeera focusing on free expression and Internet freedom. She also writes for and is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online.

Follow her on Twitter: @jilliancyork

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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