Pakistan is all set to roll out new internet rules. Critics say the rules will give the government, wide powers of censorship. It has also rejected requests from social media companies for consultation.
Pakistan already has media regulations that adhere to its social customs. Last month, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) blocked TikTok for failing to filter out “immoral and indecent” content.
The new rules were approved initially by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet in February.
They give the PTA “removal and blocking” powers of digital content. What type of content? Anything that “harms, intimidates, or excites disaffection” towards the government. It also includes content that poses a threat to the “integrity, security and defense of Pakistan”.
A service provider or social media company could face a fine of up to Rs500 million ($3.14 million) for non-compliance. This would in turn trigger a mechanism preventing the uploading and live streaming. Particularly, related to “terrorism, hate speech, pornography, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security”.
A platform has to act within 24 hours or, in case of an emergency, six hours to remove content. The rules also empower the telecom authority to block an entire online system.
PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran told Reuters the rules were meant for better coordination with foreign-based social media companies. He said those companies usually “don’t respond to legal requirements”.
Govt’s wide powers of censorship
Any platform that has over half a million users in Pakistan will have to register with the PTA within nine months. It will also establish a permanent office and database servers in Pakistan within 18 months.
The new rules shocked rights activists who complained that there had been no consultation.
“The expansion of these powers is just horrendous,” Nighat Dad, a digital rights activist, told Reuters.
Here’s how Pakistanis are reacting!
Tech giants threaten to leave Pakistan
Meanwhile, tech giants have announced that the new internet rules would make it difficult for them to continue their operations in Pakistan.
The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) expressed its alarm over the scope of the new law targeting internet companies. According to Dawn, AIC is concerned over the government’s “opaque process” by which these rules were developed.
“The consultation never occurred,” said Jeff Paine, managing director, Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a joint forum of social media platforms, urging the government to “work with industry on practical, clear rules”.
The AIC said in a statement, “The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world.
“It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression.”
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