The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has issued the social media rules titled, “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rule 2020,” that has led to a Controversy in Pakistan amongst several stakeholders. Many of the stakeholders are showing some serious concerns regarding the implementation of these rules.
These newly introduced rules are observed to be framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA). ISPAK convener Wahaj Siraj stated, “We will form a strategy against the Rules as they are contrary to several clauses of PECA, such as indemnity to the internet service providers.” Created by the PTA under Sub-section (2) of Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, the rules are to apply into force with immediate effect.
According to the rules, the PTA will block or restrict online content in the interest of
- The “glory of Islam” commits an act which is an offense under Chapter XV (relating to religion) of the Pakistan Penal Code
- The interest, security and defense of Pakistan, which also includes the dissemination of information that intimidates or harms the reputation of federal or provincial governments or any person holding public office…or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the federal or provincial governments
- Public order if an offense under chapter XIV (offenses affecting public health, safety convenience, decency, and morals) of the PPC or the online content contains any fake or false information that threatens public order, public health, and public safety or the online content constitutes an act which could lead to the occasions described under Chapter XI (temporary orders in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger) of the Code of Criminal Procedure
- Decency and morality under sections 292 (sale of obscene books), 293 (sale of obscene objects to a young person), 294 (obscene acts and songs) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the PPC
Who can file complaints:
- Any person or the guardian of a minor who is aggrieved by online content
- A ministry, division, attached department, subordinate office, provincial or local department or office, law enforcement agency or intelligence agency of the government or a company owned or controlled by the government
- The PTA itself
- The rules state that the PTA will keep the identity of complainants confidential if the sharing of it will result in harming, harassing, or defaming them or invasive of their privacy or modesty.
24-hour notice for the removal of content
Social media companies, service providers, owners of information systems, or owners of websites have to remove any content within 24 hours of the PTA’s notice. In case of an “emergency”, they have six hours to remove the content.
“The authority while issuing directions for removal or blocking access to any online content may direct the service provider, social media company, owner of the information system, owner of internet website or web server and user to secure such information including traffic data, as the case may be, for such period as the authority may deem appropriate,” according to the rules. The ambiguity in the last line, “For such a period as the authority may deem appropriate,” means the PTA could ostensibly request user data for an extended period.
“If the service provider, social media company, owner of the information system, owner of internet website or web server and the user fails to abide by the provision of these rules, the authority may issue directions for blocking the entire online system or any services provided by such service providers owned or managed by the said service providers or social media company.”
The rules say that no user or social media company, service provider, information system, or website owner can host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any online content that:
- Belongs to another person or to which the user does not have any right to
- Is blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, pedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy
- Violates or affects religious, cultural, ethnic sensitivities of Pakistan
- Harms minors in any way
- Impersonates someone
- Threatens the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or public order or causes incitement to any offense under the Act
Social media companies told to establish a Pakistan office
The rules say that a service provider with more than half a million users in Pakistan shall
- Register with the PTA within nine months of these rules coming into force
- Establish a permanent registered office in Pakistan with a physical address, preferably in Islamabad, within nine months
- Appoint a focal person based in Pakistan for coordination with the PTA to ensure compliance of its orders or directions and to receive any notices on behalf of the service provider or social media company in Pakistan within three months
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