A day after the Pakistan government notified rules defining how social media would be governed in the country, technology companies announced that the newly-imposed regulations would make it difficult for them to continue their operations here.
In a statement shared with Dawn on Thursday, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) expressed its alarm over the scope of the new law targeting internet companies, as well as the government’s ‘opaque process’ by which these rules were developed.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).
The tech companies warned that the new rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.
Under the new rules, social media companies shall provide the designated investigation agency with any information or data in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format, reported Dawn.
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 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 AIC said.
The companies also expressed that it was 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.In October, the AIC had expressed its reservations over the consultation process in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Khan.
“The lack of transparency on the consultation, an abbreviated consultation process, and strict local office requirements for online platforms are very concerning…. The consultation process, therefore, appears to have lost credibility,” said AIC managing director Jeff Paine in the statement.
The AIC stated 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.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised to 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, according to Dawn.
“The consultation that was announced in February never occurred,” Paine mentioned in the statement.
Earlier, stakeholders, including internet service providers as well as digital rights activists, have rejected the social media rules, terming them as draconian and in violation of cyber laws of the country, reported Dawn.