What do 'harder' and 'f***' have in common? In Pakistan, they are dirty words. On November 14, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) announced that mobile phone carriers would block text messages containing 'obscene' language beginning November 21; apparently, due to a high number of unsolicited texts containing illicit phrases and comments.
A PTA official told AFP that it has compiled a list of some 1600 words in English and Urdu, which is Pakistan's official language. 1100 of them are in English and range from the mild 'idiot' and 'barf' to the more harsh sexual vocabulary. Then, there is the downright strange 'flogging the dolphin'. I am not too sure what that means, but I could guess. The list is considered to be a work in progress, and PTA will continue to add words deemed inappropriate by their agency.
With more than 50 percent of its 175 million strong population using cellphones, it may be impossible to censor every text message without creating significant delays in the network. This delay may clog the network and may lead it to crash, if a hacker doesn't get to it first. Not to mention that cellphone users have already devised schemes to overcome the barriers such as typing the numbers that correspond with the letter. There is also a huge movement on Twitter challenging #PTABannedList.
Critics have raised questions about the legality of the list. According to the Guardian, while Pakistan's constitution guarantees freedom of speech, one regulator was told "mobile phone companies that such freedom was 'not unrestricted' under court rulings" and that the mobile carriers "had obligations under their licenses to prevent 'obnoxious communication'."
What is 'obnoxious communication'? In my opinion, if two consenting adults are sexting each other, they should have access to a colourful vocabulary. It is unlikely that a mobile phone customer will receive multiple offensive messages without advertising their phone number. It sounds like too many consumers are enjoying the sexual freedom that comes with a cell phone. Pakistan doesn't want to admit this; instead, they blame it on a lewd few and attempt to force people to conform to strict religious norms even in their private lives. If someone is kinky, let them be kinky and stay out of other citizens' personal communication.