Days after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to impose restrictions on social media, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) urged the PM to retract the decision as this could “severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy”.
AIC is an association that promotes the understanding and resolution of internet policy issues in Asia.
In a letter to the prime minister, the association said: “First and foremost, we wish to express our sincere concern that unless revoked, these rules will severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy.”
The AIC said that the new regulatory measures in their current form could isolate Pakistan and deprive its users of the growth potential of the internet economy. “The rules are vague and arbitrary in nature, which is a result of the absence of public consultation. The lack of such discussion is problematic given that the rules demand that social media companies deviate from established human rights practices concerning user privacy and freedom of expression,” the letter read.
AIC Managing Director Jeff Paine asked the government to consider the potential consequences of the rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy. “We hope to have the opportunity to share more detailed feedback with the government of Pakistan in the near future,” Paine added.
According to the newly-approved that aim at regulating cyberspace, social media companies will be obliged to help law enforcement agencies access data and to remove online content deemed unlawful. Companies that do not comply with the rules risk being blocked online.
The approval of the new rules follows accusations by opposition parties that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has sought to intimidate and silence its opponents and allegations of media censorship.
The new rules on social media are described by the authors as intended to prevent live streaming of online content relating to “terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence and national security.”
When required, the companies will be required to provide subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data that is sought, the regulations stipulate.
The rules also state that interpretations of the regulations by the authorities in Pakistan “shall take precedence over any community standards or rules or community guidelines or policies or any other instruments devised by a social media company.”