X ban 'legitimate' move to address national security concerns, govt tells SHC

Interior ministry says ban doesn't violate Article 19 as all "necessary legal prerequisites were satisfied"

Screengrab shows X services down in Pakistan.. — Geo.tv
Screengrab shows X services down in Pakistan.. — Geo.tv
  • Hateful content targeting  institutions uploaded on X: ministry.
  • Ban on platform made in light of report of security agencies.
  • Move aimed at addressing national security,public safety concerns.


KARACHI: The federal government, in its response submitted to the Sindh High Court (SHC) over the suspension of services of social media platform X, has said that the move does not violate Article 19 of the Constitution as all necessary legal prerequisites were satisfied in this regard.

"While Article 19 enshrines fundamental right [of freedom of speech and expression] it is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law and in the interest of public order, morality and sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan," read the Interior Ministry's response submitted to the SHC on Monday.

The government's response comes as various petitions have been filed in the SHC against the prevailing ban on the social media site along with intermittent suspension of internet services in the country.

The constitutional petitions were filed as social media users have found it difficult to access X as well as other social media platforms in recent months owing to the government's decision to ban and limit access to them citing security concerns — a move often criticised by opposition parties and various segments of the society.

Previously, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had told the SHC that it blocked social media platform X on February 8 across the country after receiving directions from the federal interior ministry.

The ministry ordered the shutdown on the basis of reports it had received from intelligence agencies, said the PTA.

The last hearing of the case was conducted on June 28.

In its submission to the court, the interior ministry has argued that the decision to impose a ban on X is a "legitimate exercise of government's authority to regulate the use of social media platforms" which is aimed at addressing genuine concerns related to national security and public safety.

Stressing that hateful content targeting the country's institutions is uploaded on social media, especially X, and since no memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed with the company so far, the government contended that it was left with no option but to impose a temporary ban on the social media platform.

It also maintained that the ban was imposed on the report of security agencies.

"Certain elements want to spread instability in the country via X. The country had previously banned TikTok and other social media platforms under similar concerns before [as well]," the ministry's response read.

Additionally, the government requested the court to dismiss the constitutional petitions and has termed them as non-maintainable arguing that the petitioners have no locus standi due to lack of cause of action and that none of their rights have been infringed.

National firewall to contain social media

Apart from the overt and obvious ban on X, the government is also installing a national firewall on different internet service providers (ISPs) to rein in social media with filters capable of blocking unwanted content from reaching a wider audience, The News reported on June 7.

The latest firewall will be used to inspect information originating from different internet protocol addresses.

"The national firewall will serve two purposes: identify the locations from where the propaganda material is being originated and the subsequent blockade or diminished coverage of those accounts”. He added: “But, I think the main focus will remain on locating the source of such propaganda to nip the evil in the bud," said an official who was aware of the information.

There will be a keyword filtering system to detect content the government considers undesirable or prejudicial to national security etc. The filter will act like an information inspector. These kinds of posts will likely be camouflaged and will subsequently be made invisible to outside users.

Posts from all dissenting voices in and out of the country are likely to pass through this inspection before they are allowed to be made properly visible.

This filter will run its check on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and X (formerly known as Twitter). Preparation is also in progress to prevent the ‘misuse’ of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as the government can declare it mandatory for citizens to inform the PTA about the VPNs they are using. Anyone failing to do that could land in trouble.