Govt urged to withdraw ‘curbs’ on social media

Updated February 16, 2020

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As criticism of the government over new social media regulations continues, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) urged the government to reconsider its decision. — AFP/File
As criticism of the government over new social media regulations continues, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) urged the government to reconsider its decision. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: As criticism of the government over new social media regulations continues, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) urged the government to reconsider its decision.

The HRCP has expressed concern over the rules under which the curbs on social media will enable the designated authorities to control freedom of expression and opinion in the guise of protecting ‘religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities’.

It supported the PFUJ over its criticism of the government move and called for withdrawal of these curbs.

Pakistan Peoples Party leader Raza Rabbani has also sought the examination of the proposed rules on the touchstone of law.

In a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s standing committee on delegated legislation he has urged him to convene a meeting of the panel to take up the citizens’ protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, to ascertain if these conform to the parent act.

The former Senate chairman said the ministry of information technology and telecommunications purports to draw its powers to draft the rules under clause (c) of sub-section (2) (a) of section 8, sub-section (1) of section 54, clause (ag) of sub section (2) of section 57 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Reorganization) Act, 1996, and sections 35, 37, 48 and 51 of the Electronic Crimes Act.

“The standing committee needs to examine the said rules to ensure that they conform to the parent law,” he writes.

Under section 8 (2A) (c) of the Pakistan Telecommunication Act the Cabinet, or any committee authorised by the Cabinet, may issue any policy directive on any matter related to the telecommunication sector on requirements of national security and of relationships between Pakistan and the government of any other country or territory outside Pakistan and other states or territories outside Pakistan.

Section 54 (1) of the Act reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, in the interest of national security or in the apprehension of any offence, the federal government may authorise any person or persons to intercept calls and messages or to trace calls through any telecommunication system.”

Section 57 (2) (ag) of the Act gives powers to the government to enforce national security measures in the telecommunication sector.

Section 37 of Peca reads: “The Federal Government shall establish or designate a forensic laboratory independent of the investigation agency to provide expert opinion before the Court or for the benefit of investigation agency in relation to electronic evidence collected for purpose of investigation and prosecution of offences under this Act.”

The HRCP has expressed concern over approval of a set of rules designed to regulate social media platforms. “Such a move — which has been made without consulting civil society stakeholders — has no credible justification,” it said in a statement.

It said these rules will enable the designated authorities to control freedom of expression and opinion in the guise of protecting ‘religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities’. Such broad parameters could well be used to justify removing online content deemed critical of state policies or to access unencrypted user data, making ordinary users vulnerable to the misuse of personal data. Political dissent will be the first to suffer.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020