Govt to Implement New Rules to Control Digital Media in Pakistan

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

While our sources indicate that the government primarily wants to “curb blasphemous content from social media”, the rules will allow it to control all online content in the country.

The new rules (called the Citizens Protection Against Online Harm Rules) are additions to existing legislation like the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and will allow the government 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 an online presence under its ambit.

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

Here’s a summarized version of the most drastic changes proposed by the government.

A National Coordinator (NC) to be Set Up

A National Coordinator (NC) will be appointed within 15 days.

The NC will be responsible for coordination, advising the federal and provincial governments, and engaging with social media companies. He will also have the power to summon focal persons of any company to discuss how they operate their businesses.

Local Offices of Social Media Companies, Focal Persons and More

When the rules come into effect, social media companies will 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 deal with 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 any other law, rule, regulation for the time being in force 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 and others.

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

Furthermore, if companies get a notification that certain content is false (with the ability to judge the veracity of the content resting only with the NC and the Authority itself), they’ll have to put a note alongside the content which states exactly that.

Access to Information of Citizens

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

Image via Intercept

  • some body wants to make money and lot’s of it…..with a fancy title long with a lucrative salary….These crazy laws never worked in the past nor they will work in the future….but lot’s of people made quick buck with these nonsense, and then after couple of years they run back where they came form

  • Is our public’s faith so weak as to be waivered by online content? All this is going to do is increase authoritarian rule and slow down our internet even further.

    • Remember the YouTube thing a while back? Banning all the educational and even Islamic content on YouTube so they could prove their virtue against one blasphemous video?

      And one wonders why there’s so much corruption in government systems… Because of the quality of systems previous governments built – likely with good intentions in their hearts. lol

  • This one step is enough to stop all foreign IT investment in Pakistan. Also no foreign company will ever set up any Servers in Pakistan as their servers could be accessed by the government at anytime. Forget about the investment of fortune 500 in Pakistan as Western companies take “Data Privacy ” seriously and they will not invest in our country now.

    Also the IT services sector will have to close down their business as foreign companies will outsource their work in Pakistan as their data could be breached by Pakistani government at any time.

    Our government is literally handing over all IT business to India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and other countries. This government has no idea that what they are doing. They are literally destroying the future of Pakistan.

    • It’ll probably get reverted. Or just not get implemented – I assume the government won’t publicly admit that they’re wrong but they can let things die.

  • govt trying to ensure that there is no room for dissent. While we all felt saddened at what happened in Kashmir and the internet situation there, our govt wanted to bring the same situation to Pakistan

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  • Ah yes, the “we only want to stop blasphemous content. It’s so widely prevalent. It’s causing such unspeakable harm to society…” play.

    There seems to be a general trend lately towards all kinds of governments trying to gain and consolidate power, and limit the freedom of their civilians.

    But assuming they did pull this off… What about the leadership 10, 20, 30 years from now? Who will be in charge then, and how will they use the systems of control this government seeks to build today?

    When governments take power, they rarely ever give it back. They do however, usually find more uses for the powers they’ve given themselves.

    Money may be raised to feed the poor or build roads, and once it’s been acquired it might instead be spent on military or something else that whoever is in charge at the time prefers.

    It’s unfortunate that the average Pakistani doesn’t know to want to protect their freedoms.

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