The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) has modified the ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules, 2021’. According to the newly drafted rules, the services of a service provider or social media platform would be discredited, blocked, or forced with a fine of up to Rs. 500 million if it fails to remove or block access to the online content or complying with the instructions.
Moreover, it declared that ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules, 2020’ and the ‘Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020’, are abolished. The revised draft rules will provide for, amongst other matters, protection and mechanisms for the exercise of powers by the Authority under the Act for the removal of or blocking access to unlawful online content by any information method.
The laws declared that every individual or company will have the power to communicate and disseminate any online content as sanctified under Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. Given that the administration shall not restrain, interrupt the flow, or disseminate any online content unless it considers it vital for the reasons as mentioned in Section 37(1) of the Act subject to due method of the law.
Further given that, without objection to the generalization of the powers in Section 37(1) of the Act, the dismissal or blocking access to online content would be deemed necessary in the case of (i) glory of Islam, (ii) security of Pakistan, (iii) public order, (iv) decency and morality, and (v) integrity or defense of Pakistan. The Authority shall consider charges concerning online content. A complaint regarding blocking or removal of online content may be registered by:
- any person, or his/her guardian, where such person is a minor, aggrieved by online content.
- a ministry, division, attached department, sub-ordinate office, provincial or local department or office, law enforcement or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government.
Furthermore, in case a service provider or a social media firm, as the case may be, fails to remove or block access to the unlawful online content or to comply with the directions declared by the Authority under Rule 6 (2) within the stipulated time frame, the Authority may launch action as per following procedure: (i) serve a written notice requiring the service provider or the social media company to remedy the contravention and give a written explanation to the satisfaction of the Authority for non-compliance with directions or orders of the Authority within 48 hours.
(ii) If the service provider or the social media company fails to respond to the notice or satisfy the Authority in respect of the alleged contravention as referred to in sub-rule, (i), the Authority may by order in writing take any of the following actions: (a) degrade the services of such service provider or social media company for such time as deemed appropriate by the Authority, or (b) block or issue directions for blocking of the entire Online Information System. Provided further that notwithstanding anything contained under clause (ii) of sub-rule (7), the Authority shall block Online Information System in compliance with the directions of the court or on the written directions of the federal government or Ministry of Interior, as the case may be, issued under any law for the time being in force.
The social media company and service provider shall not deliberately host, display, upload, publish, communicate, update or share any online content, and shall not permit the transmission, choose the recipient of the transmission, and select or alter the data held in the transmission in breach of local laws.
Provided that the following actions by a service provider and social media company shall not conclude to hosting, publishing, editing, or collecting of any such information as defined in sub-rule (1): (a) temporary or transient or intermediary storage of Information automatically within the Online Information System as a quintessential feature of such Online Information System, including no operation of any human editorial control, for onward transmission or communication to another information system; or (b) removal of access to any information, data or communication link by a service provider and social media firm after such information, data, communication link comes to the actual knowledge of a person authorized by the social media company according to any order or direction as per the provisions of the Act.
Furthermore, the service provider and the social media company shall contribute to the investigation agency appointed or organized under section 29 of the Act, any data or information or content or sub-content held in any Online Information System owned or operated or run by the particular service provider or social media company, in decrypted, clear and understandable form or conventional variant following the terms of the Act.