Wednesday Feb 26, 2020
Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood on Tuesday said the notification of The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, is being revised in Geo News talk show Capital Talk.
“The bill is not finalised yet, meetings are being conducted to discuss it further. The meetings will amend the issued notification,” Mahmood told host Hamid Mir.
“The act is being revised,” the federal minister added.
The law greenlighted by the federal cabinet a few weeks ago made it compulsory for social media companies to register and open offices in Pakistan.
Earlier on Tuesday, the US State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs also expressed fears that social media restrictions in Pakistan "could be setback to freedom of expression & development of digital economy."
"New restrictions on social media platforms in Pakistan could be [a] setback to freedom of expression and development of digital economy. Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors and stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion with stakeholders," said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells.
The law requires social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and others to build data servers in Pakistan, get registered and appoint a representative who will deal with a government-constituted authority.
Under the new law, social media companies will have to set up data servers in Pakistan within a year and will have to provide data of accounts found guilty of various crimes — including targeting state institutions, spreading fake news and hate speech, engaging in harassment, issuing statements that harm national security or uploading blasphemous content — to intelligence and law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
It will be the authority's prerogative to identify objectionable content to the social media platforms to be taken down. In case of failure to comply within 15 days, it will have the power to suspend digital media companies' services or impose a fine worth up to Rs500 million.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan had confirmed that an authority will be regulating social media companies, saying that it was not possible for the government to leave digital media companies completely unregulated.
"We cannot leave these websites completely unregulated," she had said. "These laws have been made to facilitate social media."
Proponents of Internet freedom worry that the legal document would be used to keep social media companies in check.