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Netsweeper in Pakistan

In June 2013, Citizen Lab released O Pakistan We Stand on Guard for Thee, a research report that reveals evidence that Internet filtering software developed by Canada-based company Netsweeper is deployed on networks operated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL). PTCL is a formerly government-owned enterprise that currently serves as Pakistan’s largest ISP and the manager of its Internet Exchange Point. Previous research by the OpenNet Initiative indicated that Netsweeper is being used for national-level filtering in India and across countries in the Middle East and Gulf including Qatar, UAE, Yemen, India.

Bytes for All (B4A) has actively campaigned against Pakistan’s national filtering system since the proposal’s inception in 2012. More recently, B4A has raised concerns over the role of Netsweeper’s filtering technology in aiding the Pakistani’s government’s Internet censorship regime. B4A Country Director Shahzad Ahmad argues that censorship in Pakistan has over time shifted toward targeting “secular, progressive, and liberal voices” and that “anything can be banned without debate.” A number of media outlets and non-governmental organizations have spread these concerns, including Reporters Without Borders, Reuters, and Pakistan’s The Express Tribune.

Other organizations such as Bolo Bhi and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have similarly protested against Internet censorship in the country. On July 3, 2013, Bolo Bhi Director Sana Saleem sent a letter to the High Commissioner for Canada in Islamabad urging the Canadian government to stand by its commitment to free expression and to assist the organization in demanding answers from Netsweeper regarding the company’s presence in Pakistan.

The High Commission responded by stating that “Canada expects Canadian companies working overseas to abide by the laws of those countries, and to act in accordance with applicable Canadian laws, ethical standards, and corporate social responsibility best practices.” The letter, signed by High Commissioner Greg Giokas, also stated that it was the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to manage the use of information technology “in accordance with local law.” In response, Bolo Bhi reiterated its request that the Government of Canada assist them in seeking information on Netsweeper’s sale of filtering technology to the Pakistani government.