- No iron curtains in 2020
The Bible puts the relevant question graphically. “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook or tie down its tongue with a rope?” The PTI government wants to muzzle the social media in the wake of a steady drumbeat of bad headlines regarding the government’s performance. Among other things the government wants the social media companies to divulge the identity of its detractors so that they can be sorted out in night raids. Social media companies will also have to disclose any information or data to a designated investigation agency, when sought, and failure to abide by any of the provision will entail a fine of up to Rs500 million.
European Union countries and Australia have fined social media companies heavily for breaking clearly defined laws. The digital companies are required to protect users from content involving things like terrorism, cyber-bullying, child abuse and online hate speech. But in Pakistan the idea is to punish the dissidents by putting pressure on social media companies which are being required to register with the government, establish a permanent registered office in Pakistan with a physical address, appoint a focal person based in Pakistan for coordination with the National Coordinator and the concerned authority and establish database servers in Pakistan to record and store data and online content.
Instead of bringing the issue before Parliament, the cabinet has approved the rules to control the social media. This creates problems. For instance, the media companies are required to disable access to material that violates the religious, cultural, ethnic, or national security sensitivities of Pakistan. But who will define these sensitivities? How can the Media Coordinator or a government committee issue a ruling over contentious matters?
Will the government ban the media companies if they refuse to accept the rules? If so, it will have to renounce its much trumpeted goal of a digital Pakistan. The government will cause losses to the emerging digital economy if the operations of Twitter or Facebook are terminated. The Chinese can dispense with both as they have created replacements like Weibo, Baidu and WeChat. What has the PTI government in hand? Deprived of their twitter handles, the PM and the DG ISPR will find it hard to respond to emerging developments.