After Mainstream Media, Pakistan Decides to Bring Social Media Under Control

Pakistan is one the deadliest countries for journalists and now we have also become one with one of the strictest social media regulations. On January 28th, the Pakistani federal cabinet, made it “compulsory for social media companies and platforms to get registered in Pakistan and open offices in the country.

According to a story in The News “The rules and regulations have been included in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and that senior officials in the Ministry of Information Technology confirmed that the cabinet has given the green light to the legal document. Hence, the rules and regulations do not require to be presented in parliament for approval. According to the law, all global social media platforms and companies will have to register in Pakistan within three months and open offices in Islamabad within three the same timeframe. The law requires the companies and platforms providing social media services to appoint a representative in Pakistan who will deal with a National Coordination Authority. The authority will be responsible for regulating social media companies. It requires social media companies to make data servers in Pakistan within one year. The law makes it compulsory for social media companies to provide data of accounts found guilty of targeting state institutions, spreading fake news and hate speech, causing harassment, issuing statements that harm national security or uploading blasphemous content, to intelligence and law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Authorities will take action against Pakistanis found guilty of targeting state institutions within Pakistan and abroad on social media. The law will also help LEAs get access to data of certain accounts found involved in suspicious activities.”

The global media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) asked that the government “immediately roll back a set of social media regulatory measures that were passed in secret. “These stringent but vague rules approved by Pakistan’s federal cabinet threaten the ability of journalists to report the news and communicate with their sources,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The cabinet should immediately reverse course and seek broad consultations with legislators and civil society, including the media, on how to proceed with any such regulations.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed concern “that the federal government has approved a set of rules designed to regulate social media platforms. Such a move – which has been made without consulting civil society stakeholders – has no credible justification. While the government has said that these rules are intended to prohibit ‘unlawful’ online content, HRCP is concerned that they will enable the designated authorities to control freedom of expression and opinion in the guise of protecting ‘religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities.’ Such broad parameters could well be used to justify removing online content deemed critical of state policies or to access unencrypted user data, making ordinary users vulnerable to the misuse of personal data. Political dissent will be the first to suffer. Given that the print and broadcast media are increasingly subject to implicit censorship, instituting such stringent rules will contract the space that exists for citizens to access information that the mainstream media does not, or cannot, provide. HRCP supports the statement issued by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, criticising this move, and urges the government to reconsider its decision.”

Author: Shaista Sindhu

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Author: Shaista Sindhu