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Sunday October 24, 2021

Govt issues rules for removal, blocking of unlawful online content

October 15, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication has notified “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedures, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules 2021" for streamlining the functioning of social media companies in Pakistan.

Under the fresh rules notified by the Ministry of IT & Telecommunication, a social media company could face a penalty of up to Rs500 million if it fails to comply with the direction of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for blocking online content.

According to Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) 1343 (1) 2021, every person or organization shall have the right to express and disseminate any online content as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.

The service provider and the social media company shall provide to the investigation agency, designated or established under Section 29 of the Act, any information or data or content or sub-content contained in any Online Information System owned or managed or run by the respective service provider or social media company, in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

The service provider and the social media company shall deploy mechanisms to ensure immediate blocking of live streaming through online information systems in Pakistan of any Online Content, particularly, related to terrorism, hate speech, pornographic, incitement to violence, and detrimental to national security on receiving intimation from the Authority.

A significant social media company, shall: (a) register itself with the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (b) establish an office in Pakistan upon the directions of the Authority with a physical address preferably located in Islamabad; (c) appoint an authorized compliance officer, based in Pakistan, for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act, these Rules and directions of the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (d) appoint a dedicated grievance officer based in Pakistan for the redressal of grievances received by him against online content, within three months of the coming into force of these rules. The grievance officer shall expeditiously redress the complaints but not later than seven days from receipt of the complaint.

The significant social media company shall publish on its online information systems the contact details as well as the mechanism by which user or any complainant who suffers as a result of access or usage of Online Information System can notify their complaints; (e) comply with the user data privacy and data localization in accordance with applicable laws and (f) deploy suitable content moderation methods including Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based content moderation system(s) and content moderators well versed with the local laws.

The new rules have relaxed the earlier condition of establishing an office in Pakistan within six months of the coming into force of rules and stated that upon the direction of the Authority, establish an office in Pakistan, as and when feasible.

The rules will provide for, among other matters, safeguards, processes, and mechanisms for the exercise of powers by the Authority under the Act for removal or blocking access to unlawful online content through any information system.

The rules provided that the authority shall not restrict, disrupt the flow or disseminate any online content unless it considers it necessary for the reasons as prescribed in Section 37(1) of the Act subject to due process of law.

Provided further that, without prejudice to the generality of the powers under Section 37(1) of the Act, the removal or blocking access to online content would be considered necessary in the interest of (i) glory of Islam, (ii) security of Pakistan, (iii) public order, (iv) decency and morality, and (v) integrity or defense of Pakistan.

The Authority shall entertain complaints with regard to online content. A complaint for blocking or removal of online content may be filed by: (i) any person, or his/her guardian, where such person is a minor, aggrieved by online content; or (ii) a ministry, division, attached department, sub-ordinate office, provincial or local department or office, law enforcement or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government.

In case a service provider or a social media company, as the case may be, fails to remove or block access to online content or to comply with the directions issued by the Authority under sub-rule (2) within the specified time, the Authority may initiate action as per following procedure: (i) serve a written notice requiring the service provider, social media company or significant social media company to remedy the contravention and give a written explanation within 48 hours to the satisfaction of the Authority for non-compliance with directions of the Authority.

(ii) where the service provider, social media company or significant social media company fails to respond to the notice or satisfy the Authority in respect of the alleged contravention as referred to in sub-rule, (i), the Authority may after affording an opportunity of hearing and by order in writing take any of the following actions: (a) degrade the services of such service provider or social media company or significant social media company for such period of time as deemed appropriate by the Authority; or (b) block or issue directions for blocking of the entire Online Information System or (c) impose a penalty up to Rs 500 million.

Provided further that notwithstanding anything contained under clause (ii) of sub-rule (7), the Authority shall block Online Information System in compliance with the directions of the court or on the written directions of the federal government or Ministry of Interior, as the case may be, issued under any other law for the time being in force.

The service provider, social media company, and significant social media company shall not knowingly host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content in violation of local laws.