The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has notified the social media rules titled, “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020,” that has created Controversy in Pakistan amongst various stakeholders. Some of them has shown serious concerns about the implementation of these rules. These new rules are reportedly framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA). ISPAK convener Wahaj Siraj said, “We will form a strategy against the Rules as they are contrary to several clauses of PECA, such as indemnity to the internet service providers.”
Social Media Rules Cause Controversy in Pakistan
These rules are designed to prevent the floating of unlawful online content via any information system. While the Internet Service Providers of Pakistan (ISPAK) has rejected the new rules and has decided to knock the door of the court of law against the new social media rules. However, the authority has designed the new rules to protect the social norms of society and prevent cybercrimes. These rules have come into force immediately. According to PTA, it will have the authority to block or restrict unlawful content. Under the new rules, all the requirements of the social media platforms have been applied to the ISPs as well.
The complaints for blocking or removal of content may be filed by any person or the guardian of a minor, a ministry, division, attached department, subordinate office, provincial or local department or office, law enforcement agency or intelligence agency of the government or a company owned or controlled by the government and PTA itself.
Under the rules, it is obligatory for the social media platforms with more than 500,000 users in Pakistan or on the list of ISPs and SMCs with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to register with it within nine months. Moreover, they have to establish a permanent registered office, with a physical address preferably in Islamabad, within nine months.
For failing to abide by the directives of the PTA, the ISPs and the SMCs could be fined up to Rs 500 million. However, an appeal against the decision can be filed in high court within 30 days of the PTA’s order.
The Internet Service Providers of Pakistan (ISPAK) is not ready to accept these rules and has decided to file a case in the court. ISPAK convener Wahaj Siraj said, “We are discussing a strategy against the rules.”
Digital rights activists claim that the government has ignored all the concerns of stakeholders except for deleting the clause over the establishment of the Office of National Coordinator. The industry insiders have expressed dissatisfaction over the RBUOC rules.
The digital right foundation claims that there is too much government involvement. In short, it is a draconian law. However, according to PTA official, those clauses were essential as the social media platforms had no presence in the country, despite the fact that they were earning from here and paying a significant amount to vloggers.
Technology companies claim that the regulation is making it difficult for them to continue their operations. According to the tech companies, the rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.
The AIC suggested that if Pakistan wanted to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, then it should work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.
The industry insiders suggest that the authority and the stakeholders should review the new rules and have a healthy discussion. The rules should be designed accordingly which protect human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression as well as make it easy for stakeholders to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.
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