updated 10:33 am EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Censorship requests from Pakistan Telecommunications Authority performed by Twitter
Twitter has come under fire for agreeing to requests by a bureaucrat in Pakistan to block certain content from the site. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has attacked Twitter for complying with the requests from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, suggesting the agency does not have any legal authority to demand the removal of the content.
The New York Times reports the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the PTA, made a total of five requests this month to take down content, including drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, images of burning Qurans, and posts from anti-Islam bloggers and a porn star. Twitter claims the removal of the disputed content allows the service to continue in the country, and is a better alternative to having the entire site blocked in the country.
Recently, Turkey blocked Twitter entirely from view during the country's elections, after claims the microblogging service was being used to spread allegations of corruption within the local government. After multiple court rulings in favor of Twitter, as well as attempts by government agencies to thwart citizens attempting to get around the block, the government begrudgingly lifted the bar. In Pakistan's case, it blocked YouTube in 2012 over a video it deemed blasphemous, a ban which is still in place today.
The EFF notes it defended a decision by Twitter in 2012 to launch a system for taking content down country by country as the "least terrible option," adding that Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter UK, called the service "the free speech wing of the free speech party." It expected Twitter would only comply with court orders from countries that it had significant assets and employees, and anticipated that governments would attempt to use the country-by-country censorship system since it has been created.
A blog post by Pakistani advocacy group Bolo Bhi over the decision has been highlighted by the EFF, discussing a section of a law being used against Twitter. Section 5 of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Re-Organization Act 1996 "does not in any form give PTA the authority to arbitrarily restrict content on the Internet," states the post, noting that, though Section 8 lets the government authorize the PTA to implement policy decisions, "content removal, whether by itself or through another, is beyond the ambit of powers of the PTA or of any government authority for that matter."
The EFF also raises issues with censorship in Russia, with some specific accounts blocked in the country, and the service complying with a high percentage of content removal requests in transparency reports. Just as with Pakistan, the EFF points out Twitter has no assets in the country, with the blocking of a Ukrainian account being seen as a politically-motivated action.
While it suggests some will point at Twitter as the "least-bad actor" in comparison to Facebook and Google in terms of censorship compliance. "No-one will ever defend Twitter as the 'weak censorship wing of the Free Speech Party.' And that includes the EFF."