Controversial Social Media Rules Notified

October 14, 2021 — The Ministry of Information and Telecommunication (MoITT) has notified the Rules prescribed under section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.

The Rules titled Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021, commonly referred to as Social Media Rules, that were notified on October 12 will regulate content on social media in Pakistan, and mandate social media companies to localise presence in Pakistan.

(Approved) Removal Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2021

Talking to the press, Federal Minister of IT, Syed Amin ul Haque said that the new Rules will play an important role in coordination between users and the company.

He further said that the global technology companies that wish to operate in Pakistan will have to respect the laws and the rights of its users in the country. He added that the Rules will restrict the live streaming of extremist, terrorist, hateful, vulgar and violent content, and will further bind the social media companies to remove content against the security and dignity of Pakistan.

Haque said that any content that could negatively impact the physical and psychological health of children will also be banned under the Rules. According to the Rules, the social media companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok and others will have to register their offices in Pakistan and appoint a representative to deal with government requests.

Since February 2020 when the leaked draft was first acquired through anonymous sources, the Rules have followed a controversial process devoid of transparency and multistakeholderism that has been heavily criticised by the civil society, technology sector and journalists community alike, along with their ability to give sweeping powers to the government over online content. Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a consortium of global technology companies, in a statement said that the Rules will make it difficult for the companies to operate in Pakistan. Civil society has time and again rejected the Rules that were drafted and notified multiple times without meaningful consultation with all stakeholders. The Rules were also challenged in Islamabad High Court by various petitioners, cases of which are still pending.

In addition, section 37 of the parent act PECA under which the Rules are notified and that gives Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) unprecedented powers to regulate and censor the internet as outlined under the newly notified Rules, has received heavy criticism as well, with civil society and individuals demanding the court to declare them ultra vires and to repeal the section altogether.

Hija is the Senior Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She leads digital rights and internet governance advocacy at MMfD. Tweets at @hijakamran

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