Sunday July 14, 2024

X blocked on direction of interior ministry, PTA tells Sindh High Court

By Jamal Khurshid
March 21, 2024
A view of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) building in Islamabad. — AFP/File
A view of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) building in Islamabad. — AFP/File

The social media platform X was blocked in the country on direction of the federal ministry of interior on the basis of reports it had received from intelligence agencies, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) told the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday.

Filing comments on the petitions against suspension of the internet and cellular phone service on the day of the general elections as well as the ban on access to social media site X, formerly Twitter, the PTA submitted that no action of the authority was in contravention of the Article 19-A of the Constitution but in accordance with the relevant laws.

The PTA submitted that the suspension of mobile cellular services for public safety reasons or in public emergency or for security reasons was a policy matter and ought not to be interfered by the court.

The authority stated that the suspension of cellular phone service was carried out only in extreme cases upon well considered recommendations of the law enforcement agencies, provincial governments and intelligence agencies that were received and scrutinised by the ministry of interior.

The authority said that directions for temporary suspension of mobile internet data service, social media websites and applications are only issued by the ministry of interior after careful consideration of all the relevant report and circumstances. The PTA maintained that it was bound to adhere to the directives issued by the ministry of information technology and accordingly telecommunication services were suspended due to security reasons.

Regarding the petitions against the ban on X, the PTA said the petitioners had no locus standi in the matter.

The PTA said that reliance solely placed by the petitioners on news or information disseminated through social media platforms was unfounded adding that these platforms being international providers of social content gave no access or control to the PTA over the news or information circulated through them thus creating more probability of the circulation of fake news that could be against the national interest and may harm the image of the country.

The authority said the legislature mandated the federal government to issue policy directives on national security, internal aggression, defence or security in accordance with exigency and need of time.

The interior ministry stated that it had received reports from intelligence agencies and therefore on February 17, the PTA was asked to block social media platform X till further orders under the Section 5 (7) (ii) of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2021.

The interior ministry said that all action on part of the respondents were taken within the applicable legal framework.

A division bench of the SHC headed by Chief Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbsai after taking the comments on record directed the counsel to supply the copies to the petitioners’ counsel to file rejoinder, if any, on the comments. The high court also directed the interior secretary to file comments on the petition and adjourned the hearing till April 17.

It is pertinent to mention that the SHC had directed the PTA to ensure that there shall be no further shutting down, disruption or slowing down of internet service unless there were valid or cogent reasons which shall be intimated to the court on the next date of hearing.

The high court had made it clear that if no valid reasons were provided for continued suspension, disruption or slowing down of the internet service, adverse inference may be drawn against the authorities concerned. The SHC had also directed the PTA to restore social media site X “if there was no lawful justification or reasonable grounds to deny the internet access to X”.