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Friday Feb 28 2020
Web Desk

Facebook, Twitter, Google threaten to suspend services in Pakistan after new social media regulations

Web Desk

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising global digital media giants have banded together against the government's newly-introduced social media rules, threatening to suspend services if the laws were not amended.

In a scathing letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the AIC — which includes Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Amazon, Airbnb, Line, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, among others — said it was difficult for them to operate when such rules were in place.

"The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses," read the letter, referring to the Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm).

Read more: Cabinet approves law requiring social media companies to register, open offices in Pakistan

The new set of regulations makes it compulsory for social media companies to open offices in Islamabad, build data servers to store information, and take down content upon identification by authorities. Failure to comply with the authorities in Pakistan will result in heavy fines and possible termination of services.  

'Vague and arbitrary'

The AIC questioned the way the rules were approved by the government, stating that it had not taken the stakeholders into confidence before introducing the regulations.

It added that the regulations were causing "international companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, and their willingness to operate in the country".

Referring to the rules as "vague and arbitrary in nature", the AIC said it was forcing them to go against established norms of user privacy and freedom of expression. 

The group further noted that it was not against regulation of content on social media but was concerned about the Internet freedom. 

'Act is being revised'

"We are not against regulation of social media, and we acknowledge that Pakistan already has an extensive legislative framework governing online content. However, these Rules fail to address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy," read a line from the letter. 

The coalition urged the government to think about the "potential consequences of the Rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy". 

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said Tuesday the bill was not final and that meetings were being held to revise it. It “is not finalised yet, meetings are being conducted to discuss it further," Mahmood had told host Hamid Mir.

How would the new regulations work?

"The meetings will amend the issued notification. The act is being revised,” he had added.

According to the law, authorities would be able to take action against Pakistanis found guilty of targeting state institutions at home and abroad on social media. The law would also help the law enforcement authorities obtain access to data of accounts found involved in suspicious activities.

It would be the said 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 would have the power to suspend their services or impose a fine worth up to Rs500 million.