ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to review the ban imposed on TikTok — a video sharing social networking service — last month, observing that 99pc users could not be penalised for the wrongdoing of less than 1pc.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah was hearing the petitions filed against suspension of the TikTok app in Pakistan.

In response to the court’s query, the PTA’s counsel said it had blocked/banned the TikTok app in exercise of powers conferred under section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.

“From a plain reading of the said provision, it does not appear that the powers of the authority can be exercised in an unbridled manner to block access to a popular app merely because of its misuse by a few users. Moral policing in such an arbitrary manner also does not appear to be a function of the authority,” the court observed.

Observes 99pc users cannot be penalised for wrongdoing of less than 1pc

Justice Minallah inquired from the PTA’s counsel whether the authority had sought the advice of the federal government before blocking or banning the TikTok app, to which he answered in the negative.

The PTA’s counsel could not give any plausible explanation for an absolute ban on the app. However, he referred to the orders passed by the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and the Sindh High Court (SHC) in this regard.

Justice Minallah observed: “No order could be shown by the learned counsel, directing the authority to impose an absolute ban on the access to the app. It has been informed that the matter before the learned Peshawar High Court is pending.”

The petitioners’ counsel drew the court’s attention to the affidavit which was filed by the authority before the SHC.

“The app is allegedly misused by 1pc out of 16.5 million users in Pakistan. The authority itself had urged before the SHC and the PHC that imposing a ban was not justified,” the court observed.

The court noted that technology was a neutral platform. The TikTok app, according to the stance taken by the authority before the SHC, is a platform lawfully used by 99pc of users in Pakistan to express their talents and creativity. It has also become a source of earning for many users.

The court observed that it was apparent from the stance of the authority taken before the SHC and PHC that the benefits of the app outweighed its disadvantages. Needless to mention that the need to regulate the app would not justify its blocking, the IHC CJ remarked. It observed that blocking or imposing absolute ban on social media platforms was not a viable solution.

The court noted that the authority on its own had judged the content of 1pc of the users as immoral or indecent. “It is also questionable whether the authority has applied proper standards for judging obscenity or immorality of content,” Justice Minallah observed.

The court sought a report from the secretary Ministry of IT and Telecom and adjourned the hearing till August 23.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2021

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