The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has notified its amended set of social media rules which earlier came under heavy criticism by digital rights groups and internet service providers amongst others. Under the title of “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021,” the federal cabinet approved amendments to the rules that had been introduced the previous year. The rules have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016.
IT and Telecom Minister Aminul Haque has stated that these rules will be applicable to all social media platforms including Youtube, Facebook, TikTok, Google and Twitter. After the notification, these companies will have to set up offices in Pakistan as soon as possible. Social media companies will have to register with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) within three months of the rules coming into force. They will have to appoint a compliance officer and a grievance officer in Pakistan. They will have to respond to complaints within seven working days and the PTA will alow 48 rather than the previously proposed 24 hours to remove content deemed objectionable. Failure to comply will result in the PTA taking action that could include blocking access to such social media platforms in the country, as well as fines.
According to the IT minister, “Under the amended rules, Pakistani users will have the full right to freedom of expression under Article 19 [of the Constitution].” Live streams of hateful, violent or obscene content will be banned and “social media companies will be liable to remove content against Pakistan’s integrity and defence.”
Social media companies and service providers will have to issue community guidelines to their users who upload content. “No negative content concerning any individual will be uploaded,” the IT minister stated.
It is reported that the new rules will prohibit “content against Pakistan’s cultural and moral trends” and material that could “destroy the morals” and harm the mental and physical development of children.