PTA told to release information relating to TikTok ban

Originally published in Dawn on January 3, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Infor­mation Commission (PIC) has directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to provide minutes of a meeting and the file notes related to the banning of TikTok, the popular social media platform for entertainment videos.

TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, was banned in October after repeated warnings by PTA over alleged ‘unethical content’. However, the PTA later restored TikTok with conditions and warnings that it adhere to the laws of the country and the platform should not be used for spreading vulgarity/indecent content and values of society should also not be abused.

The order was passed by Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah on a complaint filed by Nadeem Umer who sought the information related to the ban on TikTok in Pakistan by PTA.

The PIC directed the PTA to ensure provision of information and minutes of the meeting to the applicant within 10 working days.

The order said: “The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is directed to provide the Appellant (Nadeem Umer) the following requested information: the total number of complaints received against TikTok, province and district-wise break-up.”

The telecom regulator was also directed to provide copies of letters or emails sent to the TikTok management in this regard by PTA, along with copies of the letter(s) or email(s) it received from the management of TikTok and copies of the notes and minutes of the meeting in which it was decided to ban the social media platform.

Prior to the filing of the complaint with the commission, Appellant Nadeem Umer had approached the PTA to get information about the total number of complaints received against TikTok and other details by the authority.

The PTA had earlier refused to share the requested information with the appellant on the grounds that complaints had been made through the Pakistan Citizen Portal, but later, on the intervention of the PIC, the PTA submitted its response and stated that copies of the email sent to and received from the TikTok management and copies of the notes and minutes of meeting in this regard could not be shared with the applicant under the section 7(e) of Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.

The commission in its order stated that Section 7 (e) related to records pertaining to defence forces of the country, and disclosure related to correspondence with TikTok would neither adversely impact the national security of the country nor commercial activities of the company which managed TikTok.

The seven-page verdict stated that ‘noting on the files’ and ‘minutes of the meeting’ are given qualified and not absolute exclusion from disclosure, but once a public body has taken a final decision, as is the case in the instant appeal, noting on the files and minutes of the meetings could not be treated as excluded records.

“Therefore, citizens of Pakistan have the right to have access to noting on the files and minutes of the meetings which led to the imposition of the ban on TikTok application so that they can judge for themselves the input provided by officers involved which led to the ban through the final order,” the PIC order said.

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