Social media threaten to suspend services in Pakistan

Mar 1, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A Senate panel on Friday said the proposed social media rules are against the Constitution also because the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (Peca) and are prepared without taking input from the relevant parliamentary committee.

The Senate committee on Delegated Legislation made this observation while reviewing the proposed Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020. The meeting was persisted request of Senator Raza Rabbani, a senior PPP leader and former Senate chairman.

The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020 – approved by the federal cabinet – requires all social media companies –Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok – to register within 3 months and establish offices in Islamabad.

The companies will need to create a knowledge server in Pakistan within a year and block any account or prevent or remove any content “violating or affecting religious, cultural, ethnic, or national security sensitivities of Pakistan”.

The sites also will need to stop social media users “involved in spreading of faux news or defamation”.

The proposed rules are criticized by social media right activists and a few opposition groups who claim that it's an effort to gag freedom of speech. Some petitioners have also moved the Islamabad supreme court against the proposed rules.

Reviewing the principles , the Senate committee – chaired by Senator Kauda Babar – noted that the principles were sent to the cupboard without being mentioned the relevant panel committee on information technology (IT).

It said the principles also contained powers which are in violation of the relevant act – Peca 2016.

Earlier, Secretary Law and Justice and Ministry of data Technology joint secretary briefed the committee on the principles . The committee was informed that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had formulated the principles in consultation of all stakeholders.

The chairman, Kauda Babar, said the principles have some lacunas; they're also contradicting the Constitution of Pakistan and Peca 2016 and must be reviewed.

He said the principles contained powers that aren't available within the act and advised to plan rules and regulation that are useful for the general public . Under the principles , another regulatory agency is made additionally to the prevailing one, ie, PTA, he added.

Senator Rubina Khalid said the IT ministry had been repeatedly ordered that the IT committee should be taken into confidence when preparing the principles and therefore the rules should be shared with them but the principles were sent to the cupboard by bypassing the parliamentary committee.

She said Peca appeared in 2016 but rules couldn't been formed within the last 4 years.

She said the IT committee asked the ministry multiple times for creating the principles but the principles when formed were sent to the cupboard without consulting the IT committee.

Senator Rabbani said if a national institution was to be created then it should be formed under the act.

“The Supreme Court and a supreme court also stressed in their verdicts concerning rules that it should be formulated as per the act. A sub-committee should be formed to review the principles .”

Later, the committee ruled that a report should be prepared after reviewing the roles within the next meeting of the committee in consultation with the ministries of Law and therefore the IT