Islamabad [Pakistan], June 29 (ANI): Internet companies in Pakistan have once again protested against the government's amended social media rules, stating that the most problematic provisions remain unchanged in the latest draft that they say has in fact 'regressed' in comparison with previous versions.
"The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) and its member companies are disappointed with the proposed revisions," said AIC Managing Director Jeff Paine over email with Dawn.
"Despite repeated feedback from industry over several months, the draft rules still include a number of problematic provisions -- such as data localisation and local presence requirements -- that undermine the country's digital growth and transformation agenda," he added.
The third version of the social media rules, titled the 'Removal of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2021' was published by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) earlier this month.
The AIC has expressed disappointment with the consultation process and submitted comments to the MoITT on the amended draft.
"The latest draft, which replicates the previous draft with only minor changes, shows that the consultation process was not undertaken with a view towards substantive changes," it said.
Under the amended rules, internet companies are required to establish a physical office in Pakistan, and appoint a grievance officer based in the country, Dawn reported.
The AIC and its member companies continue to have concerns on various aspects of the rules, including decryption of data, fixed turnaround times for blocking content, local presence requirements including data localisation, and the ability of government agencies to make confidential content removal requests, among others.
The coalition said it was particularly worrying that large portions of the rules went beyond the scope of the parent act (Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016 (PECA)).
It also pointed out that the rules allowed a broad range of state agencies to make confidential requests for content removal through Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), without any visibility on the source of the complaint, calling it "antithetical to values of transparency".
The AIC urged the IT ministry to incorporate the industry's feedback, which was geared towards "practical and effective solutions" to support Pakistan's continued digital growth and transformation.
Local stakeholders, who participated in the consultation process, echo similar sentiments, according to Dawn.
"A consultation process is only meaningful if the recommendations and concerns of stakeholders are engaged with and reflected in the final outcome," said Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation. "Merely giving civil society and other actors a seat at the table does not make the consultation inclusive," she said.
Last year, the Imran Khan-led government introduced a new law for digital media in November 2020 titled "Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020," under PECA.
The law led to a strong reaction from internet companies, including international giants. The companies specifically opposed the government's demand to implement these new rules above their own global community guidelines.
The clampdown on Pakistan media had already reached a new level with restricting reports, shutting down the programs, and job losses in the media industry. (ANI)