New social media rules in Pakistan are draconian: Tech giants

21-11-2020

Islamabad, Nov 20 (UNI) Technology companies threatened to pull out of Pakistan if government regulations which will define how social media is to be governed in the country are allowed to stay on which they said would make it increasingly difficult for them to continue their operations in the country, Dawn reported.

The rules titled, “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020,” have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (Peca).

In a statement the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) expressed alarm over the scope of the new law which targets internet companies, and also the government’s “opaque process” by which these rules were developed.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised earlier this year that he will initiate a “broad-based” consultation on content regulation after a strong backlash from stakeholders over the release of formally known as the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020.

“The consultation that was announced in February never occurred,” AIC managing director Jeff Paine said in the statement.

The tech companies warned that the rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to users and businesses in Pakistan.

Under the new rules, social media companies are to mandatorily provide the designated investigation agency with any information or data in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format.

Subject to justifiable technical limitations, the information to be provided may include subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data.

The AIC warned that “The draconian data localisation requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world,”.

The companies expressed concern over the expansion of PTA’s powers which allows them to force social media companies to violate human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression.

Ever since the rules were first released in February, the AIC has repeatedly urged the government to adopt a comprehensive consultation strategy.

Earlier in October, the AIC had expressed its reservations over the consultation process in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Khan, saying that the lack of transparency and several other impractical requirements made by the government in this regard means that the consultations have lost credibility.

The AIC on Thursday said if Pakistan wants to remain an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, then it should work with the industry on rules which are practical, clear and which protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.