KARACHI: A day after the government officially began its consultation meetings with local stakeholders, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) has submitted comments and recommendations on the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.
The AIC is an industry association that comprises leading internet and technology companies, namely Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, AirBnb, Apple, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Grab, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, and Yahoo (Oath).
Earlier in May, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) uploaded a survey questionnaire on its website to seek input from the public and relevant stakeholders for “refining the suspended rules”.
Constructive multi-stakeholder consultation urged
Separate consultation meetings with media and civil society were held on Thursday (June 4), amid a boycott by human rights groups, which refused to participate in the review process until the rules were revoked.
The 15-page industry response suggested that the present initial questionnaire be followed or accompanied soonest by the initiation of a thorough consultative policy process.
Meanwhile, the PTA said it had received the AIC response and was presently reviewing it.
“The consultation committee will engage the tech companies in the coming weeks and respects its genuine feedback,” the PTA said, adding that the committee was allowing broad-based consultation on regulation matters.
The AIC, in its submission to the PTA, appreciated that the federal government, through multiple public statements, had committed that the rules stood suspended.
“However, given that the rules were framed by the federal cabinet, we request that the rules formally be withdrawn through the same process to allow for a constructive multi-stakeholder consultation,” it said.
While commenting on the status of rules during the consultation meeting on Thursday, PTA chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa categorically stated that the existing rules were not in effect and had been removed from the IT ministry’s website because they were not approved for implementation.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who is also part of the consultation committee, said that “no one is saying discuss the suspended rules”.
“We have asked all digital rights groups and other stakeholders to bring their views and their blueprints to the dialogue table and we will bring what we feel are rational suggestions and at the end of the day a consensus set of rules can be put in place,” she told Dawn.
Committee member Barrister Ali Zafar said the cabinet would review the new set of rules formed after the consultation process for approval.
The AIC also encouraged the PTA to ensure that any rules adhered closely to its parent legislation.
It noted that the PTA had outlined some preliminary objectives for the rules on its website, including that they should meet the statutory requirement of framing rules under Section 37 (2) of Peca, 2016.
The statute requires the rules to facilitate only the powers enumerated under Section 37 (1), which are to remove or block access to information under certain circumstances.
The recommendations highlighted that the creation of an entirely new authority known as the ‘National Coordinator’ is beyond the scope of powers granted in Peca.
In addition to publishing a survey questionnaire, the digital firms strongly recommended that the PTA and the government put in place a comprehensive framework for the consultation, including a paper or exposure draft that outlines details on the government’s proposed regulatory approach.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020