Tuesday Dec 15, 2020
ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: A senior official of the PTI government on Tuesday lamented that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists were painting the new social media rules as the state's attempt to "control" the online space.
Speaking to APP, the government official said the new social media rules — officially known as the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020 and prepared under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 — were a step forward towards regulating online content.
“The rules are designed to block and remove fake news and propaganda against country’s national security institutions, blasphemous content, hate content, and other sensitive material that violates cultural and ethnic norms" of Pakistan, the official said.
The legislation, dubbed among various circles as the Social Media Rules 3.0, were not an attempt to control the internet as was being projected by some NGOs and activists, the official said, adding that they were conceived to protect the masses from online "negativities".
The PTI government official also regretted that some internet watchdogs, NGOs, and activists were trying to create controversy out of the regime's long-awaited step in the right direction.
Pakistan has been facing an unprecedented onslaught of hybrid warfare due to regional and extra-regional realignments, he said. "It is imperative for the state to defend itself against this invasion of chaotic cyber activity and stop an unhealthy ingress impacting the social fibre of the society,” he added.
The official refuted fears voiced by local NGOs and activists that global tech giants may be forced to shut down their operations in the country, saying the huge amount of business that these companies generated in Pakistan would never be compromised by laws that do not impact their revenue streams in essence.
"Pakistan’s digital economy is estimated to increase to the tune of $5.5 billion, which, in some domains, is growing at 100% annual rate," he said.
"The rules have virtually no impact on e-commerce,” he added.
The government, he explained, had followed due process in the formation of new regulations, showing its will to enact and implement laws for better management of the Internet.
"Tech companies, ISPs, digital watchdogs, legal fraternity and general public were engaged for input and the document was compiled in conformity with the Article 19 of the Constitution, he asserted.
The official said the purpose of the Social Media Rules 3.0 was to ensure effective implementation of Pakistani laws through a quick removal of unlawful, defamatory, obscene, and pornographic content from social media platforms, which were being "exploited" by various quarters.
The aim behind the "exploitation" from inside Pakistan and abroad, he claimed, was to spread fake and false narratives, as well as to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and chaos to adversely impact the social, cultural, and religious norms of the society.
The official stressed that every country around the world "adopts and enacts a set of laws that conform to its ideology, domains of national security and the foreign policy objectives".
"Elimination of adverse impact of fake, false, immoral, unethical, and anti-religious rumours is an obligation for any state to ensure a chaos-free society.
"This national obligation has been protected and furthered by the newly-enacted rules,” he underlined.
The Social Media Rules 3.0 make it mandatory for tech giants to block access to unlawful online content within 24 hours — or, in emergency cases, within six hours — after being reported by a government authority.
"If a social media company or internet service provider fails to abide by the rules, the authority may issue directions for blocking of the entire online system or any services provided by such service providers or social media company," according to the 13-page document.
Social media companies and internet service providers with over half a million users in Pakistan are also required under the new rules to register themselves with a local authority.
They are also obligated to establish a permanent office in Islamabad and appoint a focal person based in the country within nine and three months, respectively, of the rules coming into force.
The rules further bind the social media companies to establishing one or more database servers to store data and online content in Pakistan within 18 months; however, it was subject to the promulgation of the data protection law.
Any individual, government department, and Pakistan's law enforcement agencies may file a complaint under the Social Media Rules 3.0 against any unlawful online content, with reasons for its removal or blocking access on digital platforms.