Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) released the third version of the social media rules, titled ‘Removal of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2021’, earlier this month. The country’s internet companies have raised concerns over the third version of the government’s amended social media rules. Internet companies have protested that the most problematic provisions in the earlier versions remain unchanged in the latest draft. In totality, the latest draft is believed to be regressed in comparison to the previous versions.
Pakistan’s Internet Companies Sent Repeated Feedback from Industry
Asia Internet Coalition’s (AIC) Managing Director Jeff Paine has stated that AIC and its member companies are disappointed with the proposed revisions. He further added that Pakistan’s MoITT received repeated feedback from the industry over several months, despite which the draft rules still include a number of problematic provisions.
He mentioned that provisions such as data localisation and local presence requirements undermine Pakistan’s digital growth and transformation agenda. However, AIC has submitted comments to the MoITT on the amended draft, and the ministry still has a chance to fix all the areas of concern. AIC expressed disappointment over the consultation process and said that the latest draft being replicated from the older draft with only minimal changes shows that the consultation process was not undertaken to produce substantive changes.
Internet Companies to Establish a Physical Office Under Amended Rules
The AIC and its member companies have said that the amended social media rules go beyond the scope of the primary act which is the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016. Some aspects of the amended rules on which the coalition raised concerns include but are not limited to decryption of data, fixed turnaround times for restricting content, regional presence needs including data localisation and government agencies abilities to make confidential content removal requests.
According to a media report, the amended rules would make internet companies comply with requirements like establishing a physical office in Pakistan and appoint a grievance officer based in the country itself. The amended rules would also allow a broad range of state agencies to make confidential requests for content removal through Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).