The Removal and Blocking of Illegal Online Content (Rules2020) was referred to as Process, Supervision and Protections. They can be found on the website of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.
These rules were made by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. Under Sub-section(2) of Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act,2016, which talks about “illegal online content,” it has the power to do this.
Here are the important points for people who use the internet in Pakistan and what they can mean.
The rules state that no user, social media company, service provider, information system or owner of a website can host, view, upload, alter, publish, distribute, update or exchange online content that:
- Belongs to another person or to whom there is no right of the consumer.
- Is blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, pedophilic in nature or is invasive of another’s privacy.
- Violates or affects religious, cultural, ethical sensitivities of Pakistan
- Harms minors in any way.
- Impersonates a human.
- Threatens the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or public order or causes incitement to any offence under the Act
The first point is ambiguous and effectively prevents someone from posting any data about another person. According to Digital Rights Creator Nighat Dad, no exceptions have been made for information that may be relevant for public knowledge, public interest journalism, etc.
In the absence of a data security law in Pakistan, ‘…invasive of another’s privacy’ is unclear. Digital rights campaigners have consistently demanded data protection legislation from successive governments, but no substantial progress has been made. The law is supposed to state what a person’s personal data is and what are the rules on who owns it and how and how this data can be used by government and private institutions.
Personal data is, according to the definition of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation, “any information relating to an identifiable person that can be identified directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier.
This means someone who can be identified by a name, an identification number, location information, an online identifier, or one of many unique features representing the physical, physiological, genetic, emotional, commercial, cultural or social identity of these individuals. For example, all personal data is someone’s telephone number, credit card or staff number, account data, number plate, appearance, customer number or address.
PECA Vs new rules
According to Nighat Dad, the rules go against their parent act, PECA. It bypasses the judicial authority, which has to provide a warrant for the Federal Investigation Agency to approach social media companies to procure data about a user. The new rules allow for direct complaints or requests for data to the companies.
The laws go against its parent act, PECA, according to Nighat Dad. It bypasses the judicial jurisdiction, which would grant the Federal EnThe new rules allow businesses to make direct complaints or requests for data. Enforcement Agency a warrant to contact social media companies to access a user’s data. The rules also contain, as offensive material, “intimidation” or any damage to the image of the federal or provincial government or the holder of a public office.
This goes against the Constitution’s Article19, said Nighat Dad. Freedom of speech is dealt with in Article 19.
“They tried to bring something to PECA in parallel, to bring in a new legal framework.”
24-hour notice to remove content
Social network firms, internet providers, information system owners or website owners are expected to delete any content within 24 hours of notification by the PTA. They have six hours in the event of an “emergency” to delete the material.
The PTA laws state that group standards take precedence over those introduced by a social media entity. An entire online system or any service provided by them may even be blocked.
The PTA may impose a penalty of Rs500million if there is no compliance.
Asad Baig, founder of Media Matters for Democracy, told Samaa Digital that social media platforms have restricted intermediary responsibilities under the parent act, The Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act, 2016. This ensures that the presence of inappropriate material on its website would not implicate the social media business.
“A major company’s decision to come to a market depends on its potential and how much can the company earn from it,” he said. “In their statements in response to the rules, the social media companies have made it clear that they do not think Pakistan is such a market.”
Baig said that Pakistan should find ways to accommodate them to build their offices here instead of imposing such laws, considering that this region has major economies such as India and China.
Social media companies told to establish a Pakistan office
The rules state that a service provider in Pakistan with more than half a million users would have more than half a million users.
- Within nine months of the coming into force of these laws, register with the PTA
- Establishing a permanent registered office in Pakistan with a physical address within nine months, preferably in Islamabad
- Appoint a Pakistan-based focal person to communicate with the PTA to ensure compliance with its orders or directives and to receive any notifications within three months on behalf of the service provider or social media business in Pakistan.
Social media firms have already declined to open offices in Pakistan, as the government accepted an initial draft of the rules in February.
The Asia Internet Coalition, a technology organization speaking on behalf of major technology companies in Asia, said in a statement Thursday that members are “alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet companies, as well as by the government’s opaque process of developing these rules.” The consultation declared in February never happened.
It said that the rules would make it “extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses… we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.”
Handing over data, opening data centres in Pakistan
The rules ask social media platforms to include decrypted and readable formats of subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information data.
For instance, WhatsApp chats are end-to-end, encrypted. But social media platforms would have to include all information of a user’s info, chats, etc. under the regulations.
In Pakistan, social media companies have been asked to set up their data centre(s) and store data inside Pakistan’s territorial borders. A data centre is a network of computers and related systems that store a specific company’s digital information.
For this reason, in June, Pakistan asked users to register with their internet service providers if they wanted to use VPNs. VPNs mask the internet traffic of a user so that information such as the location of their device or smartphone is not accessible even to the ISP.
Reference links: samaa.tv