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Government implements new rules to control digital media in Pakistan

The government is getting to impose new rules which could radically redefine Pakistan’s digital landscape.

While our sources indicate that the govt primarily wants to “curb blasphemous content from social media”, the principles will allow it to regulate all online content within the country.

The new rules (called the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm Rules) are additions to existing legislation just like the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and can allow the govt to bypass industry stakeholders and only require Federal Cabinet approval.

Our sources indicate that Federal Cabinet approval has already been granted.

While the document (available here courtesy of Digital Rights Monitor) talks about social media companies, the definition for “social media companies” is broad enough to bring any company with a web presence under its ambit.

If companies don’t abide by any of the principles within the 14-page document, they’ll be blocked in Pakistan.

Here’s a summarized version of the foremost drastic changes proposed by the govt.

A National Coordinator (NC) to be found out

A National Coordinator (NC) is going to be appointed within 15 days.

The NC is going to be liable for coordination, advising the federal and provincial governments, and interesting with social media companies. He also will have the facility to summon focal persons of any company to debate how they operate their businesses.

Local Offices of Social Media Companies, Focal Persons and More

When the principles inherent effect, social media companies are going to be required to:

  • Register with Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) within 3 months.
  • Establish an office in Pakistan with a physical address in Islamabad within 3 months.
  • Appoint a focal person to affect the Authority and NC within 3 months.
  • Add servers in Pakistan within 12 months.

Strict Control Over Content

The rules state that unlawful content is anything “which is in contravention of any provision of the Act, or the other law, rule, regulation for the nonce effective or instruction of the National Coordinator.”

Concerningly, MoIT or NC’s interpretation of rules and laws will take precedence over community standards, rules, community guidelines or policies of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, et al.

The Ministry of data and Telecommunications or the National Coordinator can ask any social media company to get rid of, suspend or disable access to such content within 24 hours. Urgent situations would require action within 6 hours.

Furthermore, if companies get a notification that certain content is fake (with the power to gauge the veracity of the content resting only with the NC and therefore the Authority itself), they’ll need to put a note alongside the content which states exactly that.

Access to Information of Citizens

Companies are going to be required to supply any requested information during a “decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version,” bypassing the legal process currently outlined in PECA.

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