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Social media regulations: Facebook, Twitter, Google threaten to suspend services in Pakistan

"The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses," reads the letter by the coalition

By Web Desk
February 28, 2020
Photo by: AFP

A coalition comprising digital media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter (among others) have spoken out against the new regulations approved by the Pakistani government for social media, threatening to suspend services in the country if the rules were not revised. 

In a letter penned to Prime Minster Imran Khan on February 15, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising Facebook,  Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and other tech giants called on the government to revise the new sets of rules and regulations for social media. 

"The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses," reads the letter, referring to the Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm).

The new set of regulations makes it compulsory for social media companies to open offices in Islamabad, build data servers to store information and take down content upon identification by authorities. Failure to comply with the authorities in Pakistan will result in heavy fines and possible termination of services.

The AIC questioned the way the rules were approved by the government, stating that it had not taken into confidence stakeholders before introducing the regulations.

The AIC said that the regulations were causing "International companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, and their willingness to operate in the country."

Referring to the rules as "vague and arbitrary in nature", the AIC said that it was forcing them to go against established norms of user privacy and freedom of expression.

The AIC further said that it was not against regulation of content on social media but was concerned about internet freedom.

"We are not against regulation of social media, and we acknowledge that Pakistan already has an extensive legislative framework governing online content. However, these Rules fail to address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy," read a line from the letter.

The coalition urged the government to think about the "potential consequences of the Rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy".

Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood said on Tuesday that the bill was not final and that meetings were being held to revise it.

“The bill is not finalised yet, meetings are being conducted to discuss it further. The meetings will amend the issued notification,” Mahmood had told host Hamid Mir.

“The act is being revised,” the federal minister had added.

How do the new rules aim to regulate social media companies?

According to the law, authorities will be able to take action against Pakistanis found guilty of targeting state institutions at home and abroad on social media. The law will also help the law enforcement authorities obtain access to data of accounts found involved in suspicious activities.

It would be the said authority's prerogative to identify objectionable content to the social media platforms to be taken down. In case of failure to comply within 15 days, it would have the power to suspend their services or impose a fine worth up to Rs500 million.