The Three-Month Ban

Oct 11, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Gadget Guy, Hang Out

In a recent meeting of the Sindh government, chaired by the Chief Minister of Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the Provincial Minister for Information Sharjeel Memon stated that WhatsApp, Viber and Skype could be closed down.

The reason?

Criminal elements and terrorists have smartly switched to these networks. Previously, they communicated through their cellular phones. Now they have switched to networks to which we do not have access.

If the motion comes to pass, the ban would initially be implemented for three months.

When the news first broke out, people in both Pakistan and abroad had the same word flitting through their minds: seriously?

Over the last year, WhatsApp has gained a lot of popularity. The high traffic of users convinced service providers to launch specific packages and bundles targeted at WhatsApp users. Viber, which is relatively similar to WhatsApp, has the additional feature of allowing users to make free calls to any other user using a WiFi connection. Aside from the famed, free, WiFi-enabled chat (and video) services, there is a plethora of other communication software out there ready to assist the world in breaking down barriers and journeying over distances.

Is the government of Sindh planning on banning those too?

The proposed ban, which has not come into effect yet as the final decision rests with the Federal government, was met with a huge backlash on social media websites.

From status updates to memes and podcasts to tweets, everybody began criticizing the ban. From witty updates to critical blogs, the feeling towards the proposed measure was that of annoyance.

Here is a compilation of the sort of reactions the announcement faced:

 “The ‘last seen at’ thing in whatsapp is insensitive to suicide bombers” – AC

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also joined the fray, but he chose the other side as he showed support for the ban by tweeting:

Dear Burgers, Sorry abt Skype/Viber/Whtsapp. Excuse us while we catch some terrorists and save some lives. SMS for 3months. Sincerely BBZ

Needless to say, his opinion was not fully appreciated by most users.

These services have become an integral part of the average Pakistani’s life. Everyone, young or old is familiar with and uses at least one of the above stated software. Take, for instance, my own family; my aunt lives in the United States (US) so my mother frequently uses Viber to talk to her and my father uses Skype to call up my uncle in Japan every other month. In fact during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Tsunami my father kept in contact with my uncle via Skype until help arrived!

 I personally use WhatsApp to stay in touch with my college friends and at times to share notes, we have even had combined study sessions over Skype.

Students, businessmen and families use these softwares for various reasons.

 As friend of mine put it: “I do not want them to block these things because I use them and there are people I don’t want to lose contact with whom I can only contact via Skype, Viber and WhatsApp” – AA

The ban, if implemented, would also adversely affect small businesses which have been using WhatsApp as a cost cutting measure. Many entrepreneurs use the software for communicating with customers rather than the making the conventional phone calls which eventually add up to a hefty phone bill. In some cases where Cell phone Service Provider’s signals are lost or unavailable in certain areas, Viber can and has been used there as an alternate.

In short, the ban would be an inconvenience for most of us. Has the government not wondered why the US and other first world countries, who are the forerunners of the war against terror, not thought of introducing such a preposterous ban in their own society?

Let us not forget how Rehman Malik used to shut down cell phone service providers for 12 hours at a time, claiming to be fighting terrorism. Sadly, it only exacerbated the horrible conditions in the city as criminal gangs found the perfect opportunity to commit crimes and flee without any fear of consequences as the public in general had been helpless due to the lack of Voice over the Internet Protocols (VoIPs).

This is just the government trying to show they are cracking down when they have failed to control law and order problems. Sadly they are doing that by taking away people’s fundamental rights.” – Sana Saleem, co-founder of Pakistani Internet advocacy group Bolo Bhi.

Unfortunately, while the government’s intentions might be pure, the concept behind proposing the ban is analogous to mowing down the whole lawn because a single weed is present.

The Author

Born in Karachi, raised in cities all over Pakistan.

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1 Comment + Add Comment

  • AA here. Thanks for featuring me in your post ;)

    Glad to know that I don’t fall in the socially ostracised group of people labelled, notoriously, as “Forever alone’s”!

    Nah, just kidding. Good article!

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