On Thursday, the information technology ministry notified new social media rules. The newly formed rules will allow the telecom regulator Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block any platform or website on the directions of the federal government, the court, and the interior ministry.
Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021, have been formulated under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016.
What Kind of Content is Considered Unlawful Online Content?
Under article 19, Pakistan will have complete freedom of speech. However, content classified as hateful, violent, terrorist, immoral, and obscene will be banned entirely and “social media companies will be liable to remove content against Pakistan’s honour and well-being”.
Violation of online content rules related to “glory of Islam”, the “security of Pakistan”, “public order”, “decency and morality”, and the “integrity or defence of Pakistan” will be considered as severe offences.
The government has yet to announce what punishments and fines are set for offenders. However, it has been defined that spreading “immoral and obscene content” will become a punishable offence once the rules are applied.
While the set rules allow the state to regulate social media content, it doesn’t offer any incentive and protection to the content creators present on social media platforms. If a social media company fails to comply with the direction of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for blocking online content, it could face a penalty of up to Rs500 million.
Social Media Companies Required to Open Offices in the Capital
Social media companies must establish offices in the country, “as and when feasible”, preferably in Islamabad. However, they must register with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) within three months under the rules.
Must Appoint Authorized Compliance Officers
They must also appoint an authorized compliance officer based in the country to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act and an authorized grievance officer, again, based in the country for the redressal of grievances received by him against online content.
The social media companies are also expected to comply with the user data privacy and data localization under applicable laws and extend suitable content moderation methods, including Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based content moderation system(s) and content moderators well versed with the local laws.
The internet service providers in Pakistan are responsible for expanding their system to ensure immediate blocking of live streaming through online information systems in Pakistan related to “terrorism, hate speech, pornographic, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security on receiving intimation from the PTA.”
Under the rules, the “service provider, social media company and significant social media company” will not intentionally “host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content in violation of local laws.”
Social Media Companies Threaten To Close Their Operations in Pakistan. Read the full story here:
Social media companies have threatened the officials to close down their operations in Pakistan after the authorities went ahead and published a new set of rules online. Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) showed their concern regarding the matter. The newly issued regulations will make their operations difficult as Pakistan’s digital policy lacks transparency in the formulation. AIC include Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, Linkedin, and many more.
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