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Friday Aug 06 2021
Web Desk

Justify ban on TikTok, IHC chief justice tells PTA

Web Desk
— Reuters/File
— Reuters/File

  • People's livelihoods are dependent on social media apps, says Justice Athar Minallah. 
  • Formulate a mechanism and consult the federal government: chief justice to PTA. 
  • Change your mindset, we are living in the digital age: court to PTA. 

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday asked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to formulate a mechanism regarding the operations of video-sharing app Tiktok in Pakistan and consult the federal government, rather than take a unilateral decision to ban the app.

"The PTA should never have banned Tiktok without consulting the federal government," it observed, also asking the PTA: "What authority do you have to completely ban the app?"

The case, against the suspension of the app, was heard by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minhallah.

Justice Minallah asked the PTA counsel to provide a reason for banning TikTok, adding that "if banning TikTok is the only solution, then Google should be banned too".

The PTA lawyer responded by saying that the Peshawar and Sindh High Courts had issued orders to ban the app and formulate a mechanism to stop inappropriate content from circulating on the app.

At this, the chief justice asked the counsel to read out the orders of the high courts. He then pointed out that neither court had ordered that the app be completely banned in the country. 

"Such videos are circulated on YouTube as well. Will you shut down YouTube too?" Justice Minallah asked.

He said PTA should instead "guide people not to watch inappropriate content".

"Apps are a means of livelihood and entertainment for people," the chief justice added.

Justice MinaAllah said that the PTA had "misused the orders" from both courts and demanded to know if the actual orders, which pertained to developing a mechanism, had even be followed. "You were asked to develop a mechanism. Did you make one?"

Read more: TikTok responds to Pakistan suspension

The chief justice further asked why other social media apps had not then been banned based on the grounds Tiktok was banned.

To this, the PTA lawyer responded by saying that for other apps, content based on what people search for becomes visible, whereas on Tiktok, the content is displayed without user input.

"What does the PTA want? Does it wish to do moral policing?" the chief justice went on to ask.

The court asked the PTA counsel to stop focusing on only negative things and also consider the positive aspects, as social media apps have numerous benefits.

It asked the PTA to "satisfy the court" whether it had ever conducted research into the benefits and drawbacks of Tiktok.

It further asked PTA to innumerate which countries have banned the app and for what reasons.

The PTA counsel, in response, said that he does not know about present day, but does know that the app was banned at some point in India and Indonesia.

"The app was banned in India for security reasons," the lawyer said.

Justice Minallah corrected him by saying that the app was banned in India because it is a Chinese app, not for security reasons.

"Is PTA siding with India now?" he asked the PTA lawyer.

The chief justice also asked the PTA counsel to inform the court under which act the authority had banned Tiktok.

The PTA lawyer said that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) was invoked for the purpose.

"If that is the case, then PECA applies to all apps. Which app out there does not have some content that is objectionable?"

Justice Minallah then asked if PTA does ban Tiktok, "can it cut off Pakistan from the rest of the world?"

The PTA counsel said that would not be possible, adding that the app was barred from operating as the company was "not cooperating" with them.

"You must change your mindset and be prepared for the future. You must not regress. You live in a digital world," the court remarked.

The PTA lawyer said that the authority "has not permanently banned Tiktok".

"We have simply asked that the company work with us to develop a mechanism," he said, adding that the PTA will develop a mechanism for all apps in time.

At this, the court asked: "So will you then shut down other apps too?"

'Ban must be lifted'

Meanwhile, the lawyer for the complainant requested the court that the press release under which PTA had announced the suspension of the app be rendered ineffective.

"The court must ask PTA to lift this ban," the lawyer added.

The hearing was adjourned till August 23.