Pakistan’s new social media guidelines draw criticism

Islamabad, November 19

Pakistan has notified new social media rules that have placed all internet service providers on par with social media companies, drawing a sharp reaction from stakeholders as well as digital rights activists who have termed them as “draconian”.      

The Ministry of Information Technology on Wednesday issued “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules (RBUOC) 2020”, Dawn newspaper reported.

The rules were framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA).

The RBUOC rules have placed all the internet service providers (ISPs) on par with social media companies (SMCs). Under the new rules, all the requirements of the social media platforms have been applied to the ISPs as well.

The rules have also made it 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.

These companies have to establish a permanent registered office, with a physical address preferably in Islamabad, within nine months.

A senior PTA official said that those clauses were essential as the social media platforms had no presence in the country, but they were earning from the country.

The RBUOC rules state that social media platforms have to appoint a focal person in Pakistan to coordinate with authorities for compliance of the law of the land.

The rules prohibit live-streaming though for the ISPs and the SMCs by deploying online mechanism, related to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, pornographic, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security.

The ISPs and the SMCs could be fined up to Rs 500 million for failing to abide by the directives of the PTA, while 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) has rejected the new rules and the association is likely to move the court against the new social media rules.

“We will form a strategy against the rules as they are contrary to several clauses of the PECA, such as indemnity to the internet service providers,” ISPAK convener Wahaj Siraj said while talking to Dawn.

At the moment, he said, “We are discussing a strategy against the rules.”            

Digital rights activists have expressed dissatisfaction over the RBUOC rules, claiming that the government has ignored all the concerns of stakeholders except for deleting the clause over the establishment of the Office of National Coordinator.

“It is a draconian law, there is too much government involvement in the affairs of social media,” said Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation. PTI


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