The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom on Thursday notified the revised social media rules that drew strong criticism from stakeholders and digital rights activists.
The rules titled “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Inspection and Security) Rules, 2021” have been framed under the Electronic Crime Prevention Act (PECA), 2016.
Federal Cabinet last month Accepted Amendments to the digital media rules introduced last year.
Important amendments to social media rules
- Social media companies will have to register with PTA within three months
- Social media outlets will be required to set up an office in Pakistan “whenever possible” – instead of the nine months as previously required
- PTA will give social media company 48 hours instead of 24 hours before to remove or block access to online content
In a statement, IT and Telecom Minister Aminul Haque said that under the rules, social media companies will have to comply with Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users.
“Under the amended rules, Pakistani users will have full right to freedom of expression under Article 19 [of the Constitution],” he said, adding that the rules will play a vital role in facilitating contact between Pakistani netizens and social media companies.
He said live streaming of extremist, terroristic, hateful, obscene and violent content would be banned, and “social media companies would be liable to remove content against the honor and goodness of Pakistan”.
Haq said that as per the rules, promotion of “immoral and obscene material” will also be a punishable offence.
In addition, social media companies and service providers will need to create community guidelines to inform users about uploading content.
“No negative material relating to any person shall be uploaded,” revealed Haq, adding that uploading of material about one’s personal life will also be banned.
Others prohibited under the amended rules include “content against the cultural and moral tendencies of Pakistan” as well as material that can “destroy” morals and harm the mental and physical development of children.
The minister said the rules would be applicable to all social media outlets including Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Google. He said that after the notification is issued, social media companies will be required to set up their offices in Pakistan “as soon as possible”.
As per the draft revised rules seen by don.comSocial media companies will have to register with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) within three months of the law coming into force.
They must also appoint an authorized Compliance Officer and Grievance Officer based in Pakistan within the same time frame. These officers will have to resolve the complaints within seven working days.
The rules also direct social media companies to set up an office in Pakistan, preferably located in Islamabad, “whenever possible” on the directions of the PTA. Earlier, as per rules, companies had to set up their offices within nine months.
In addition, the PTA will give the service provider or social media company 48 hours, instead of 24 hours before, to remove or block access to online content.
If the Service Provider or Social Media Company fails to remove or block access to the Content or to comply with the instructions of the PTA within the specified time, the PTA may initiate proceedings. This includes sending a notice seeking a written explanation for non-compliance within 48 hours.
If the service provider fails to respond to the notice, the PTA may degrade the services of such service providers for the time being.
Under the rules, the PTA has also been authorized to block the entire online information system or issue directions or impose a fine of up to Rs 50 crore.
Faced with social media rules that were approved in November 2020 severe reaction From digital rights activists, the Internet Service Provider of Pakistan (ISPAK) and the Asia Internet Alliance (AIC).
Tech companies had also threatened to shut down their services in Pakistan if the rules were not amended, saying the rules would make it difficult for them to continue their operations.
The rules were also challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC). During a hearing on the petition, the Attorney General had assured the IHC that the government was ready to review the rules.
Reading: strict internet rules
In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan set up an inter-ministerial committee to review controversial social media rules.
The committee framed the rules by August and they were passed by the Cabinet Committee on Legislative Affairs on 23 September.
However, Internet companies criticized Revised editions too, noting that the most problematic provisions remain unchanged in the latest draft, which they say has actually “reverted” compared to previous versions.
AIC Managing Director Jeff Penn previously said, “The Asia Internet Coalition and its member companies are disappointed with the proposed amendments.” dawn.
“Despite repeated feedback from the industry over several months, the draft rules still contain a number of problematic provisions – such as data localization and local presence requirements – that undermine the country’s digital development and transformation agenda,” he had said.