PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Wednesday directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to produce a progress report on the steps taken for blocking ‘unlawful’ contents, including immoral material, on the popular mobile video app, TikTok.

A bench consisting of Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan and Justice Abdul Shakoor observed that the country had its own social values, so the court won’t allow any material on TikTok that would ‘corrupt minds of the young generation’.

It added that it couldn’t cut off the country from rest of the world, so TikTok couldn’t be banned permanently as it was an international mobile app.

The bench, however, observed that there should be a filtration mechanism for the app.

Declares can’t allow any material on app that will ‘corrupt minds’ of youth

The court was hearing a petition jointly filed by 40 residents of Peshawar, who sought orders for the respondents, including PTA and Federal Investigation Agency, to ban TikTok to the extent of the violation of the constitutional provisions, which don’t allow acts contrary to Islamic code of life in the country.

Directing the PTA to submit details of progress on the matter, it fixed May 31 for the next hearing into the petition.

In March last year, the court had banned TikTok service in the country leading to the blocking of the people’s access to the video-sharing app.

The ban was lifted on April 1 with the court asking the PTA to ensure that no immoral and obscene contents are uploaded on it.

Lawyers Sara Ali Khan and Nazish Muzaffar appeared for the petitioners, whereas assistant attorney general Taufeeq Hussain Shah represented the federal government.

Jehanzeb Mehsud, the counsel for the PTA, said his client had prepared a report on the matter.

He said the telecom regulator had devised a mechanism for first suspending the TikTok accounts, which shared immoral contents, and then blocking them.

Mr Mehsud said after the promulgation of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, the powers of FIA had further been enhanced for dealing such issues.

The bench observed that the ordinance was mostly meant to check political propaganda. It added that there were certain videos showing youth and children committing suicide.

Mr Mehsud said the Islamabad High Court had banned the PUBG game but lifted the ban afterwards.

The petitioners said the contents shared on TikTok violated Constitutional provisions, which guaranteed social and moral wellbeing of citizens.

The PTA had placed a ban on TikTok last year. However, it was lifted later.

During a hearing in Sept last year, the telecom regulator had informed the court that it won’t lift the TikTok ban until unlawful contents were removed from the mobile app and a mechanism was introduced in the country by its operator for ‘proactive content moderation’.

In a report submitted to the court earlier, the PTA said it had issued instructions to the TikTok management under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards Rules, 2020, to take concrete steps to remove unlawful contents from the app. It had added that on the failure of the TikTok management to comply with the instructions, it blocked the app in the country through an order on July 20, 2021.

In response to that report, the TikTok management had claimed that it was not provided with specific information regarding ‘inappropriate content’ allegedly found in violation of the local community guidelines. It had also said its latest Community Guidelines Enforcement Report showed that Pakistan was the second-ranking market in the world in the first quarter of 2021 with the largest volume of videos removed from TikTok.

“During this period, we enforced our community guidelines and took down more than six million videos in just three months. Moreover, we permanently ban accounts for repeatedly or egregiously violating our community guidelines,” it had said.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2022

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