Govt. Of Pakistan To Revisit Social Media Rules

The federal government has informed the court about its decision to revise the rules designed to regulate social media. On Monday, a petition against social media rules was heard under the chairmanship of Chief Justice Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah.

According to AFP, Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Javed informed the court that “the government is ready to review the social media rules and in this regard, it will be reviewed after consultation with the petitioners and concerned stakeholders.” During the hearing, he remarked that the issue was related to fundamental rights and it seemed that stakeholders were not consulted in formulating social media rules.

Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan, while requesting the court to grant respite for reviewing social media rules, said, “Complete ban or closure of any platform is not the solution to the problem. Some respite should be given to PTAs and stakeholders.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah remarked that the Attorney General has a very positive attitude. “If the government is ready to review the social media rules, then the petitioners should submit their suggestions to them. They should be given full confidence.” The petitioner’s counsel said that they had been consulted before but our suggestions were not heard. “We request that no order be issued in the light of social media rules,” Justice Athar Minallah said, adding that the court had also appointed judicial assistants in the case. There are important stakeholders in the case. If an order is passed on the basis of these rules, it can be challenged in court.

The court adjourned the case till February 26, giving the PTA four weeks to consult. The Civil Society and the Pakistan Bar Council’s Journalist Defense Committee had filed a petition in the court against the new social media rules. In which the petitioner has taken the position that instead of consulting the stakeholders, the PTA has made its own rules and submitted them to the court which is unconstitutional and should be removed immediately.

The amended rules have come into force from November 2020. According to the petitioner, the greatness of Islam, ethics, security and defence of Pakistan are enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution. The interpretation of the constitution is the prerogative of the court only and not of the PTA. According to the petition, the PTA has also taken the option of self-notice in the rules, which is unconstitutional. The rules, however, allow government agencies and intelligence agencies to sue, which could jeopardize a transparent trial.

The Current Social Media Rules In Pakistan

The government of Pakistan had introduced social media content laws in February last year, but after a strong reaction to these laws, Prime Minister Imran Khan had formed a committee to amend the rules, which introduced the amended rules in November 2020. According to the new rules, complaints regarding the regulation of content on social media and ‘illegal content’ will be handled by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). According to the new social media rules, “the Authority shall not disrupt or restrict any material or information except those which are anti-Islamic, contrary to the integrity, defence and security of Pakistan” and in the public interest and public health. The authority will also have the power to take action against the publication of any kind of misinformation while blocking or removing ‘immoral‘ content.

Users of social media platforms will be required to register themselves in Pakistan. The amended rules would require social media platforms with more than half a million Pakistani users to register and open offices in Pakistan, but now social media companies have been given nine months, compared to the first three months given. “Within nine months of the application of the rules, social media platforms with more than half a million users will be registered with the PTA and will be required to open an office in Pakistan during this period.” Companies will be required to appoint a focal person within three months who will act as a liaison between the PTA and the social media company. Social media companies have also been asked to set up one or more than 20 data servers within 18 months to protect the data of Pakistani users. In addition, the social media company or platform will be obliged to provide the available information to the authority for any kind of investigation.

According to the new rules, live streaming or uploading of material that includes terrorism, extremism, hate speech, pornography, incitement to violence or material against Pakistan’s security will be a felony. Anyone affected by content on social media platforms will be able to lodge complaints with the PTA. In addition, any ministry, division, provincial department or security agency will be able to lodge a complaint online against any content while the authority identifies the complainant. Will have to keep it secret. In addition, the authority itself will have the power to issue instructions to the relevant company to remove any illegal material.

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