AARHUS (Denmark): With less than a month left for the next case hearing on social media rules, technology companies have sought a clear consultation network, timeline and plan from the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP).
In a letter to AGP Khalid Jawed Khan, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) reiterated that the rules in their current form make it extremely difficult for technology companies to make their platforms and services available to Pakistani users and businesses.
The new rules, introduced through the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2020 under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, were immediately rejected by many stakeholders, including the AIC.
Earlier in January, during a hearing of a petition filed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists against the rules, the AGP had held out the assurance that he would hold a proper consultation on the matter with all stakeholders involved.
“We welcome your statements before the Islamabad High Court to ensure a meaningful consultation and review the rules,” AIC managing director Jeff Paine wrote to the AGP.
The AIC sought his assistance to ensure that the basic principles of meaningful consultation were upheld through a clear consultation framework, timeline and plan.
The next hearing of the case is on Feb 26. However, details of the consultation plan have not yet been disclosed to the public or stakeholders.
In order to instill trust in the policy making and consultation process, the AIC expressed the hope that the government would share updated drafts with stakeholders for feedback, incorporate proposals and inputs, reflect changes in each iteration, and issue explanatory memos on provisions and changes made in each draft.
The industry letter lamented that instead of clarifying the scope of the powers given to the PTA, these rules created further confusion for both users and online platforms in Pakistan.
“Large portions of the rules are not only unworkable for global internet platforms, they go beyond the scope of the parent act (PECA 2016), putting their legality into question,” the AIC stated. In particular, the data localisation requirements in the rules will prevent Pakistani citizens from accessing a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world, it said.
“We therefore urge the government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm,” Mr Paine said.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2021