The government has constituted a joint committee, comprising Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), to monitor objectionable content on the internet.
This was stated by the Chairman PTA Ismail Shah while briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication. The committee met with acting chairman Syed Ali Raza Abidi in the chair on Tuesday.
To increase coordination, the committee is likely to be joined by the Interior Ministry as well and the government may issue a notification soon in this regard.
FIA Not Present At The Meeting
Chairman PTA briefed the Committee about the actions taken by PTA against the blasphemous material on social media. When the Committee asked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) about their actions against the blasphemous material on social media; nobody was present in the meeting to respond.
The Committee showed its displeasure about FIA not attending the meeting and directed that FIA must attend the next meeting and brief the Committee about the blasphemous material on social media.
Chairman PTA Ismail Shah said that 17,566 complaints were received since 2012, where 188 were related to blasphemous material.
The committee observed that the judiciary and army were being attacked. There are national security challenges from inside and outside Pakistan. PTA can only block accounts or websites containing objectionable materials, said PTA chairman.
He further said that the government has constituted a joint level committee comprising PTA and FIA which may be joined by the Interior Ministry as well to monitor objectionable material on the web.
Petitions in High Courts
Sacrilegious content was uploaded on social media, which was taken up through a Writ Petition No.739/2017 filed before the Islamabad High Court.
Islamabad High Court heard the petitioner and directed PTA to evolve a mechanism to eliminate blasphemous material on social media and ensure that a scientific mechanism is evolved to bring awareness about blasphemy and pornography.
A similar writ petition was filed in Lahore High Court (Multan Bench) which was also handled in a similar way, with directions that concrete steps be taken by PTA for removal of blasphemous material from social media platforms.
Guidelines About Blasphemous Content
PTA has uploaded detailed guidelines on its website for education and awareness of Internet users. The guidelines include website links of all major social media platforms where any person can lodge his/her complaint directly to the social media administration regarding unlawful online content.
PTA has also requested HEC, MoIT and FIA to upload these guidelines on their respective websites to educate the general public.
The Authority has requested all concerned stakeholders to report objectionable content to relevant platforms directly. This will save time and also show our concerns directly to the social media. However, in case there is no response, a complaint to PTA through e-portal may be made.
MoIT, in consultation with PTA, has drafted Rules namely “Removal or Blocking of unlawful online content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules, 2017″ under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. The said Rules are in process of approval of the Cabinet.
Coordinating With Facebook
As part of PTA’s efforts for removing/blocking websites/URLs containing blasphemous material, Facebook Vice President, Joel Kaplan called upon the former Interior Minister, Nisar Ali Khan and the Chairman PTA.
Kaplan was not only made aware about the misuse of social media platforms to propagate blasphemous content, but Pakistan government’s concerns were also conveyed to him. As a result of the said meeting, PTA’s request for blocking of unlawful content made to Facebook administration is being entertained positively and promptly.
PTA’s Monitoring Team
Blasphemous material being uploaded on internet is in different forms i.e. literature, pictures, audio, video etc. Therefore identification of blasphemous material without human intervention is not possible.
Therefore PTA has deployed a team of 25 IT personnel for this purpose and so far PTA has blocked around 13,210 blasphemous links. Given the fact that a huge amount of content is being produced every minute and is uploaded on the internet, it is almost impossible to restrict and block any one or more of the content categories completely.
Lodging Online Complaints
In addition, PTA has developed an electronic portal to facilitate stakeholders to lodge complaints about objectionable content. An email address is also advertised in the media, facilitating the general public to inform PTA about any blasphemous content. The email address is [email protected].
In this regard around 8000 complaints have been received so far, which were handled accordingly.
As a part of public awareness campaign, a short message was broadcasted to all mobile subscribers about uploading/spreading of blasphemous material on internet and its repercussions under the law.
The Committee took up the TIP employee’s issues and directed that the issue will also be taken on next meeting agenda. Further, the Committee directed Chairman, PTA to launch public awareness through media about how we could get rid of the curse of the “Blue Whale Game”.