Islamabad: The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) once again approached the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan to express its concern over no consultation process with it and its input in revised rules for regulating social media.
The AIC also questioned transparency in the consultation process for revising the rules and feared that the improperly formulated rules would not only harm the business environment but it would also have grave effects on attractiveness for investors in technology companies.
“However, the AIC is deeply concerned by the lack of consultation and would like to bring to your (Prime Minister) attention that despite multiple requests, no draft of the revised Rules has been shared with industry stakeholders for input or feedback,” stated the letter.
“As in any international best practice consultation process, it was a legitimate expectation of stakeholders that after initial input leading to a revised draft, policymakers would undertake in-depth consultation with industry,” the letter sent by AIC’s Managing Director Jeff Paine stated.
The AIC regretted that the government of Pakistan had already outlined new Rules. “These developments – in particular the lack of transparency on the consultation, an abbreviated consultation process, and strict local office requirements for online platforms – are very concerning,” the letter stated, adding that the consultation process seemed to have lost the credibility.
The letter of AIC was a follow up to its letter to the premier regarding the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 or the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020.
AIC in its latest letter, sent on October 6 addressing to the prime minister, while reiterating its earlier stance stressed on the importance of a credible and transparent consultation.
“We are of the view that any industry consultation by definition must involve sharing updated policy drafts with stakeholders so there is a common understanding of feedback solicited and the resulting revisions.”
AIC noted that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had committed with AIC regarding sharing of a draft copy of the Rules for latter’s feedback.
Recalling PTA’s commitment, the AIC requested the government of Pakistan to share a copy of revised draft rules to seek additional input of AIC because the Coalition has been actively involved in the policymaking process.
AIC, however, expressed its gratitude to the prime minister for his timely personal intervention in suspending the previous version of the Citizen Protection Against Online Harm Rules.
AIC believed that the previous version had failed to uphold internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan.
AIC in its letter stated that it was not against the regulation of social media. It also acknowledged that Pakistan had already a legislative framework regulating the online content.
“However, regulations need to be reasonable, based upon realistic expectations, capable of being implemented and consistent with best practice,” it said.
“Holding a transparent consultation where stakeholder feedback is acknowledged and reflected in draft revisions will instil trust in the policymaking process and allow AIC and its members to further develop effective solutions to support Pakistan’s continued digital growth and transformation. This can only be made possible if both the Government and industry equally provide transparency and meaningful best practice consultation to the rulemaking processes.”
The AIC is an association of leading Internet and Technology companies which seeks to promote the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region. Companies like Twitter, Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Cloudflare, Expedia Group, Facebook, Google are members of AIC.
Revised draft rules to regulate social media in Pakistan:
Under the revised rules, PTA will never restrict any online content. However, there are a few exceptions. PTA may remove or block the access to online content which is against the religion or anti-Pakistan and defence, and public order.
The PTA may also remove the content based on immoral or indecent grounds. The content which constitutes an offence under different sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) or of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) may also be blocked by the PTA.
It would be mandatory for any social media platform to publish guidelines in line with the Pakistani laws to inform the users not to display or update any online content ultra vires of the guidelines. These guidelines will cater to the subjects of blasphemy, defamatory, obscene and pedophiliac content. The guidelines will also cover the matter of other’s privacy, propaganda against religion, culture, ethnical or and other sensitivities of Pakistan.
Those service providers or social media platforms which have more than half a million Pakistani users and especially ‘notified’ by the authority must be subject to the provision of the act. The draft rules also include registration of service providers or social media platforms, having more than half a million users in Pakistan, with authority and the same companies will be required to establish a permanent office within Pakistan.
Under the revised rules, the PTA will be entitled to entertain complaints by anyone about the violation of rules and guidelines. Under the rules, the term ‘anyone’ mainly includes parents of children, affected by negative content, law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies or a company owned or controlled by the government.
The details of the complainant will be kept confidential while the complaint before the PTA shall be decided within thirty days and the Authority may pass any order with reasons. However, a notice of 24 hours shall be furnished to the concerned parties to comply with the directions given in the written order.
For emergency cases, the PTA along with the specific reasons of emergency in writing may also direct the service provider and social media platforms to block the access to the online content within six hours.
Under the revised rules, failure to compliance of PTA’s order may lead to the initiation of action against the social media platform or service provider or web server.