Pak to block 1,700 offensive words in texting

  • PTI, Islamabad
  • |
  • Updated: Nov 20, 2011 15:54 IST

If Pakistan's telecom regulator has its way, millions of mobile phone users may be unable to send text messages with "offensive" and "obscene" words like crap, damn, hobo, flatulence, gay, lesbian and slime from Monday.

These words are part of a list of nearly 1,700 words and terms that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has deemed as offensive, and wants mobile phone operators to filter from SMS text messages.

Operators have been directed to start blocking text messages containing these words from November 21.

The move has been greeted with ridicule and derision, particularly by Pakistan's vociferous users of internet forums and micro-blogging sites like Twitter.

Since the PTA's lists of offensive English and Urdu words and terms – containing 1,106 and 586 items respectively – became public a few days ago, it has become the butt of jokes on the web.

While the English list has 148 items containing a four-letter swear word, it has had many scratching their heads by including words and terms like athlete's foot, deposit, black out, drunk, flatulence, glazed donut, harem, Jesus Christ, hostage, murder, penthouse, Satan and "flogging the dolphin".

The lists of offensive words and terms and a letter written on November 14 by PTA's Director General (Services) Muhammad Talib Doger, instructing mobile phone operators to start filtering SMS messages, have been posted on numerous internet forums after they were leaked to the media last week.

Doger's letter indicated that the lists were drawn up after consultations with mobile phone operators over the past few months.

It described the filtering scheme as part of larger efforts to halt spam messages.

"The right of free speech extends to all subjects which affects way of life without limitation of any particular fact.

"However, right of freedom of speech and expression is not unfettered and unbridled," the letter said.

The filtering of SMSs is required to under the Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations of 2009, it said.

Mohammad Younis, a spokesman for the PTA, described the efforts to filter offensive words from text messages as a work in progress.

"The mobile phone operators will have to install systems, involving both hardware and software, to filter messages.

"A target date has been set and the system can be made more effective once we see how it is working," Younis told PTI.

He sought to play down the controversy over the lists of offensive words.

"These documents should not have been made public.

"They were designed to assess the system and to see how effective it is in filtering content.

"They were intended to take things closer to reality and can be revised," he said.

However, Younis said there would be no penalties for any messages with offensive words that get through.

"This is all part of efforts to end spam messages. The system will automatically block SMSs. There will be no penalties," he said.

For avid users of internet and text messaging services like Mehmal Sarfraz, op-ed editor of the Daily Times, the PTA's explanations made little sense.

"This move curbs civil rights of Pakistanis. How can you ban words like idiot and virgin that are commonly used by people and even journalists? It's no wonder that these lists have become the origin of hundreds of jokes," Sarfraz told PTI.

The PTA's lists are being circulated on the internet as the "halal texting list" and some have gone into overdrive thinking up alternatives for swear words.

Jemima Khan, the ex-wife of politician Imran Khan, referred to a term banned by PTA and tweeted: "I'm going to make sure I include 'monkey crotch' in every text to Pakistani friends from this day forth".


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