Rory Cellan-Jones

YouTube back in Pakistan

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 26 Feb 08, 15:23 GMT

A couple of hours ago BBC colleagues in Islamabad told me they were able to get onto YouTube without problems, and now Google has been in touch to confirm that the blocking of the site by the Pakistani government appears to be over.

Separately, a software company that makes it possible for users in countries like China to get access to blocked sites told me they’d seen a big spike in traffic from Pakistan over the last two days, so it looks as though many people were already getting round the ban.

It still isn’t entirely clear why the campaign to prevent Pakistani users getting access to YouTube ended up causing a worldwide outage on Sunday. But network engineers seem pretty sure that it was a mistake. The most detailed account I’ve seen is in this blog by Danny McPherson of Arbor Networks.

After including a helpful link to the order (pdf link) from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority telling ISPs to block YouTube, Mr McPherson goes on to outline in painstaking detail just how they might have set about that task. He concludes that it was unlikely that the impact beyond Pakistan’s borders was intentional – but expresses concerns about what the whole incident says about the security of what he describes as “this extremely fragile and vulnerable piece of infrastructure.”

Still, the fact that YouTube is now back in action in Pakistan makes me revise my thoughts on the clash between governments and the freedom of speech and thought which the internet promises. Yesterday I thought it was a case of Government 1, Internet 0. Now it looks as though, the internet has struck back with a couple of late goals.

UPDATE 16:57:

The plot thickens. Pakistan's Telecoms Authority now says it has unblocked YouTube because the offending clip - a trailer for a supposedly anti-Islamic film by a Dutch politician - has been removed. "I've been told that this video has been taken out and we have issued instructions to unblock this website," PTA chairman Shahzada Alam Malik told APTV.

Google says it never comments on individual YouTube videos. All a spokesman would tell me is this: "When we receive complaints about videos we review them against our terms of use - which include things like pornography or gratuitous violence or hate speech - and where videos break those rules we remove them."

He wasn't happy at my suggestion that YouTube had blinked. But I'm putting that down as another goal for the government - making it Government 2, Internet 2.


Thanks for these details. I just posted on the problems religious Faith cause in the world and saw this as an example. Then when the site was back up I thought, "perhaps I was wrong." Clearly, I was not!

  • 2.
  • At 06:47 PM on 26 Feb 2008,
  • Captain Haddock wrote:

Perhaps its was the recent bad publicity which has helped.

  • 3.
  • At 08:46 PM on 26 Feb 2008,
  • Hugh E Torrance wrote:

Only the most deeply ignorant would think it right to decide what others should see...

  • 4.
  • At 09:35 PM on 26 Feb 2008,
  • Mike wrote:

If you follow the link in the PTA pdf file you get to a YouTube page with the message "This video has been removed due to terms of use violation."

Did YouTube then remove the clip that Pakistan was upset with? Any idea?

  • 5.
  • At 10:31 AM on 27 Feb 2008,
  • Mr Choudhry wrote:

So it was nothing to do with people uploading clips showing vote rigging at poll stations during the recent elections? Course it wasn't.

Rory, you conclude that this incident "shows that governments that want to control or disrupt Internet traffic can do that with some ease".

I'm not sure this incident supports that conclusion without strict qualification: YouTube was back globally after suffering little more than two hours' outage. A little disruption, certainly, but I wouldn't characterise that as a serious step towards cross-border content control.

Within Pakistan the situation was different, granted, but since none of the analysis considered what options were available to Pakistanis seeking to circumvent the block I assume that wasn't what you meant.

YouTube also censored videos in order to be unblocked in Turkey.

What this means is that a totalitarian government in any backwards nation on the planet can censor YouTube -- globally.

Viewers in Great Britain and the United States can no longer view these videos, because they have been removed on the orders of fascist Islamic regimes.

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