On January 28, the federal cabinet of Pakistan approved the “Citizen Protection Standards (against online damage), 2020”, without consulting other stakeholders or informing the public, as reported by The News International, a newspaper in English, on February 12, 2020. The rules and regulations have been included in the electronic crime prevention law of 2016.
These rules will regulate all online social media activities and social media will be required to disclose any information or data to the research organizations when requested by the authorities. They would also be obliged to eliminate the contents that the authorities consider illegal. If the platforms do not meet the standards, they run the risk of being blocked and fined. It is not clear when the new rules will take effect.
This took Pakistani activists as a surprise:
– Farahnaz Ispahani (@fispahani) February 13, 2020
Pakistan approves broad new social media restrictions.
Extensive new regulations would restrict social media and dramatically change how companies like Facebook and Twitter operate in the country.
Extensive new regulations would restrict social media and dramatically change how companies like Facebook and Twitter operate in the country. Censorship.
What do the rules have?
According to the Secretary Ministry of Information Technology, Shoaib Siddiqui, the new rules require that “social media companies and platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Dailymotion, Twitter and others open offices in Pakistan and register in the country in a three month term ”. These platforms will have to eliminate any “illegal content” that is indicated to them in writing or in an electronically signed email within 24 hours, and in cases of emergency within six hours.
According to the rules, social media means “any social media application or service or communication channel dedicated to the contribution, interaction, content, exchange of sub-contents and community collaboration,” and social media company means “an entity that owns or directs or manages those systems online. ” According to the regulations, these companies “will take due account of the religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities of Pakistan”:
The Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunications will appoint a national coordinator “who will be assisted by a committee composed of those interested (those regulations are not specified), as notified by the said minister.” According to the regulations, the functions of the coordinator will also include written instruction regarding the regulation of social media:
advis (ing) the Federal or Provincial Governments, and issu (ing) instructions to departments, authorities and agencies, in accordance with requirements of National Security in relation to management or regulation or functioning of social media companies. The departments, authorities or agencies shall act in compliance with the said instructions. Such instructions may include actions related to blocking of unlawful online content, acquisition of data or information from social media companies, and other such matters;
(…) Advise the Federal Government or provincial governments and give instructions to departments, authorities and agencies, in accordance with the requirements of National Security regarding the management, regulation or operation of social media companies. The departments, authorities or agencies will act in compliance with these instructions. These instructions may include actions related to blocking illegal content online, the acquisition of data or information from social media companies and other such matters;
According to article 6, “social media companies shall provide the Investigation Agency designated or established under article 29 of the law subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data”.
Rule 7 mentions that “in case a social media company does not comply with the provisions of these rules, the national coordinator may instruct to close the respective service or block the entire online system and impose a fine of up to 500 million Pakistani rupees (3.24 million US dollars). ”
Leading digital rights activists and many social media users in Pakistan have rejected this measure and condemned it because they say it is a new attack on the freedom of expression, privacy and digital rights of Pakistanis. The rules were passed secretly in the cabinet and parliamentarians will not discuss it.
The local human rights organization Bytes for All (B4A) expressed concern:
Bytes for All has serious reservations over the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm rules. We believe they aim at granting access to State to personal data of citizens and curb their speech. Moreover, it will have serious implications on internet based businesses in country
– Bytes for All, PK (@bytesforall) February 14, 2020
Bytes for All has serious reservations about the rules of protection of citizens against online damage. We believe that they aim to give the State access to the personal data of citizens and contain their expression. In addition, it will have serious consequences for internet business in the country
Nighat Dad, a digital rights activist, said the new regulations will give the government dangerous powers to control social media. According to him, the definition of extremism, faith or tradition mentioned in the norms can be misunderstood to name any material of illegal or extremist content or against the State. Section 2 (d) of the rule says:
“Extremism” means the violent, vocal or active opposition to fundamental values of the state of Pakistan including the security, integrity or defense of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.
“Extremism” means violent, vocal or active opposition to the fundamental values of the State of Pakistan, such as security, integrity or defense of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, rule of law, individual freedom and mutual respect and tolerance. of the different creeds and beliefs.
Media Matters for Democracy stated:
The scope and scale of action defined in the rules appear to go way beyond the mandate given under the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 (XVII of 1996) and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (XL of 2016). We remind the government that anybody creating Rules under a law has to treat them as subordinate legislation and thus, the prescribed Rules cannot exceed the power of the parent Acts, i.e. the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 (XVII of 1996) and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (XL of 2016).
The scope and scale of action defined in the rules seem to go well beyond the mandate granted under Pakistan's (reorganization) telecommunications law of 1996 (XVII of 1996) and the electronic crime prevention law of 2016 (XL of 2016). We remind the Government that any person who creates norms under a law should treat them as subordinate legislation and, therefore, the prescribed norms cannot exceed the power of the main laws, that is, the (reorganization) law of telecommunications of Pakistan, 1996 (XVII of 1996) and the law of prevention of electronic crimes, 2016 (XL of 2016).
For its part, Digital Rights Foundation said:
The Rules are a blatant violation of Article 19 (freedom of speech and information) of the Constitution.
The rules are a flagrant violation of article 19 of the Constitution.
The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HRCP) is concerned that the rules allow designated authorities to control freedom of expression and opinion under the pretext of protecting “religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensibilities.”
Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq of the opposition Muslim League of Pakistan (Nawaz) tweeted:
Parliamentary oversight allows both NA & @SenatePakistan to review rules & regulations; an important component of delegated legislation.
Also, any draconian / repressive rule that stifles freedom of speech, Article 19, falls under the purview of Human Rights committee https://t.co/sHJPyBFOWN
– Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq (@ AyeshaRaza13) February 13, 2020
The federal secretary of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Shoaib Siddiqui, confirmed to Geo News that after the approval of the cabinet, the rules and regulations do not need to be presented in Parliament for approval.
Parliamentary oversight allows both the Nations Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan to review the rules and regulations; an important component of delegated legislation.
In addition, any draconian / repressive rule that stifles freedom of expression, Article 19, falls within the competence of the Human Rights Committee.
Journalist Talat Hussain made furious comments:
#Pakistan is being thrown behind the iron curtain of one of the most draconian #social media #censorships of modern times. A new authority & legal framework put in place will choke & shut down posts on fb, youtube, twitter reducing the country to a Burma or # 3rdReich. Heil! Heil! pic.twitter.com/iMvMXvzH45
– Syed Talat Hussain (@ TalatHussain12) February 12, 2020
They are throwing Pakistan behind the Iron Curtain of one of the most draconian censures of modern times. A new authority and a new legal framework will drown and eliminate Facebook, YouTube, twitter, and reduce the country to Burma or the Third Reich. Heil! Heil!
The Coalition for the Internet in Asia, an association made up of the main internet and technology companies, such as Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, also expressed concern:
The Asia Internet Coalition submitted its initial response to Pakistan’s Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm). In the submission, AIC expressed sincere concern tht unless revoked, these rules will severely cripple growth of Pak’s digital economy https://t.co/lAJn5vxxjS
– Taha Siddiqui (@TahaSSiddiqui) February 16, 2020
AIC presents its response to the protection standards of Pakistani citizens (against online damage) (February 2020).
The Internet Coalition in Asia presented its initial response to the protection standards of Pakistani citizens (against online damage). In the presentation, AIC expressed its sincere concern that, unless revoked, these rules will seriously paralyze the growth of Pakistan's digital economy.
Google, Facebook, Apple & others:
“As no other country has announced such a sweeping set of rules, Pakistan risks becoming a global outlier needlessly isolating and depriving Pakistani users and businesses of the growth potential of the internet economy” https://t.co/e7seEXjzzr
– Fahad Desmukh (@desmukh) February 16, 2020
AIC presents its response to the protection standards of Pakistani citizens (against online damage) (February 2020)
Google, Facebook, Apple and others:
As no other country has announced such a broad set of rules, Pakistan runs the risk of becoming an atypical world that unnecessarily isolates and deprives Pakistani users and companies of the growth potential of the Internet economy.
Despite the protest, the Minister of Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, defended the Government's decision and mentioned that it had been promulgated to regulate social media in order to deal with harmful content and false accounts.
It is not the first time that social media and its users in Pakistan are under government fire. Recently, the Pakistani Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) drafted a policy in which it is proposed to authorize and regulate free transmission services (OTT) and internet television, and requested public opinion, which prompted a public opinion. public protest