ISLAMABAD: Responding to concerns expressed by the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) over the recently enacted rules for social media, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said on Friday that “prejudiced and wrong impression is being created regarding the rules”.
The rules — titled “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) 2020” — were notified by the government on Nov 27, but these have not been received well by digital rights activists and social media platforms, mainly the members of AIC.
The AIC has also written to the prime minister, expressing concerns over the rules.
In a statement, the PTA contradicted the AIC’s stance that meaningful consultation was not carried out and termed it “misleading and against the facts”.
Criticises the AIC stance that meaningful consultation was not carried out over the issue
“It is reiterated that the rules in no sense aim to harm the business environment in Pakistan, rather [they] would pave the way for better investment opportunities for tech companies while remaining compliant with local laws,” said the telecom sector’s regulator.
It said the rules had been framed as a statutory requirement under Section 37(2) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.
“A comprehensive consultation process was carried out by the Consultation Committee formed on the directions of the prime minister of Pakistan,” PTA said, adding that during the process, key local and international stakeholders were invited to opportunities for active engagement and open dialogue.
“The committee held [a] meeting with AIC on 19 June, 2020, and both sides exchanged views on the response submitted by the AIC over… draft social media rules,” said the PTA statement.
It added that key social media platforms that are also members of the AIC, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, were also approached individually for consultation.
The regulator said that Google and Facebook participated in the consultation process on June 26 and June 29, respectively.
The PTA added that the consultation process could not be kept open-ended and prolonged indefinitely, as the committee had to follow the timeline for finalisation of its report due to directives of the Islamabad High Court and those of the federal government.
“Therefore, after due consultation, the final report of the committee was submitted to the federal government, considering all reasonable concerns and recommendations of stakeholders, remaining within the legal provisions and the tenets of the Constitution of Pakistan and the PECA 2016,” the statement added.
It said the right to freedom of speech and expression had been included in the second chapter of the rules, in accordance with Article 19 of the Constitution.
AIC is a group of 15 US tech-based companies and social media platforms, including Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Cloud Flare, Booking.Com, Grab, Airbnb, SAP, Rakuten, LinkedIn, LINE, Amazon and Expedia Group.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2020