On Thursday, the Ministry of Information Technology approved the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules, 2021,” which amend social media rules.
Backstory: The Government considers the regulations necessary for monitoring online content related to “terrorism, extremism, hate speech, fake news, incitement to violence, and national security.” They have claimed that the regulations are necessary to maintain public order, morals, and security for Pakistan.
Digital rights activists, the Internet Service Providers of Pakistan (ISPAK), and the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) had criticized the social media rules, which were first approved in November 2020.
In March, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered a committee to review the social media rules. In August, the amendments to the rules were drafted, and on September 23, the Cabinet Committee on Legislative Cases passed them.
What’s next: The rules apply to all social media outlets including Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and Google.
- Within three months, social media companies must register with PTA.
- They must set up an office in Pakistan as soon as possible. As opposed to the previous requirement that an office must be established within nine months, this requirement has been relaxed.
- They have to appoint a compliance or grievance officer based in Pakistan who has to address the complaints within seven days.
How it works: When the PTA orders that the content is removed or blocked, social media companies have 48 hours to comply with a written explanation of the action being taken.
Why comply? Non-compliance can result in slowed bandwidth, suspension, and up to Rs. 500 million for violations.
What this means: On social media, no negative content regarding an individual’s personal life can be shared. Obviously, you can share it, but be aware that doing so may or may not result in regulatory action. There will be zero tolerance for content relating to terrorism, hate speech, pornography, and anti-national security matter.
Please Note: PTA will not accept anonymous or pseudonymous complaints or complaints from anyone other than the aggrieved party, their guardian, or a minor. For a complaint to be valid, there must be physical, psychological, or other harm.
The Bottom Line: The new social media rules give more power to PTA. The amended version has been criticized by many tech and social media companies, who claim that the rules remain problematic and, unless changed, it will be impossible to operate in Pakistan.
In addition to curtailing free speech, they have concerns over the decryption of data, the turnaround times for blocking content, and the possibility that government agencies may request that confidential content be removed. Others in the local community share the same concerns.