Govt publishes controversial rules online
The government of Pakistan has published its controversial social media regulation rules almost a month after they were approved.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has published the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020 on its website.
The rules have been formed by the PTA under Sub-section (2) of Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, which references “unlawful online content”.
The rules have come into force immediately.
According to the rules, the PTA will block or restrict online content in the interest of
Who can file complaints:
The rules state that the PTA will keep the identity of complainants confidential if the sharing of it will result in harming, harassing or defaming them or invasive of their privacy or modesty.
Before passing any order, the opportunity of a hearing will be given, reads the rules.
Social media companies, service providers, owners of information systems or owners of websites have to remove any content within 24 hours of the PTA’s notice. In case of an “emergency”, they have six hours to remove the content.
“The authority while issuing directions for removal or blocking access to any online content may direct the service provider, social media company, owner of information system, owner of internet website or web server and user to secure such information including traffic data, as the case may be, for such period of time as the authority may deem appropriate,” according to the rules. The ambiguity in the last line, “For such a period of time as the authority may deem appropriate,” means the PTA could ostensibly request user data for an extended period of time.
“If the service provider, social media company, owner of information system, owner of internet website or web server and user fails to abide by the provision of these rules, the authority may issue directions for blocking the entire online system or any services provided by such service providers owned or managed by the said service providers or social media company.”
This means the PTA has the authority under these rules to block entire social media websites if platforms don’t remove “objectionable” content within 24, or in some cases six, hours.
They also want service providers and social media companies to publish “community guidelines” that users have to read before using the platform.
These guidelines will inform the user not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any online content that:
Social media companies and service providers have also been told to deploy mechanisms to identify such content.
They cannot knowingly “host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content and shall not allow the transmission, select the receiver of transmission, and select or modify the information contained in the transmission” either.
Service providers and social media companies with more than half a million users in Pakistan or on the list of service providers or social media companies compiled by the PTA from “time to time” will:
In case they fail to abide by the act, rules or direction, after being given a notice or opportunity of showing cause, a penalty of up to Rs500 million will be imposed on social media companies or service providers.
When the PTA will not entertain applications:
These rules have caused a lot of controversy in Pakistan. Activists argued that they would restrict Pakistan’s access to the internet and may be used as a censorship tool.
Advocacy, research and policy firm Bolo Bhi has already expressed its alarm at the rules.
Bolo Bhi is alarmed at govt notified Removal & Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2020. They undermine right to speech online, impose broad content censorship rules,& threaten blocking social media platforms. They will gravely impact the internet as we know it in Pakistan.— Bolo Bhi (@BoloBhi) November 18, 2020
“They undermine right to speech online, impose broad content censorship rules, and threaten blocking social media platforms. They will gravely impact the internet as we know it in Pakistan,” the firm wrote on Twitter.