Upon the consultation of concerned stakeholders, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT) has drafted a new series of rules that bound service providers across the country to block content deemed “unlawful” by the government.
As reported by Pakistan Today, the MOITT has officially drafted the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules, 2020for the purpose of policing social media and online content. These new rules were forwarded to the Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC), which gave its full approval as per media reports.
It is likely that these rules give the government even greater control over the kind of content that the masses get to consume. And while the prime intention appears to be putting an end to the flow of illegal, obscene, and defamatory content, it also means greater restrictions placed upon an individual’s right to free speech and expression on the Internet.
Nighat Dad, founder of Digital Rights Foundation, said that these rules are “a serious affront on the rights of Internet users in Pakistan as they further entrench the unconstitutional powers granted to regulatory authorities under Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA)”. She believes that this development will further infringe “on the right to freedom of expression and access to information of citizens as it provides expansive and vaguely defined powers to block and remove content from the Internet.”
Under the new rules, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) will be able to restrict or disrupt the flow or dissemination of any online content, and remove and block access to online content, which goes against the interest of Islam, integrity, security and defense of Pakistan, public order, public health, public safety, decency and morality.
PTA will entertain complaints filed with regards to unlawful online content, register the complaint and decide upon it within 30 days, and upon making the decision to ban it, it will pass orders for the removal or blocking of that content to the service provider. If the service provider fails to comply within 24 hours, PTA will initiate action against it.