International Media is Criticising The Audacity Of Pakistani Politicians Who Are Criticizing WhatsApp for Controversial Policy. In Reality, They Have Been Doing The Same Since Forever.
Pakistan is among the late adopters of technology and other IT-related advancements. A definitive blueprint for the regulation of new technologies exists in the form of international laws and laws of more developed nations. Yet Pakistani regulators always come up with something that is controversial.
Back in November, Pakistan introduced laws to regulate social media and to look into the usage history of users. These laws and regulations got the approval silently to stay clear of criticism. But since then, PEMRA is facing a lot of pressure to ‘review’ its controversial policies.
Nations across the world are terming the attempts to control the media and internet as absurd and a privacy breach. Pakistan is trying its best to stay under the radar and avoid any sanctions or criticism.
The government now says it will review regulations that rights groups term as draconian and which limit freedom of speech and increase internet surveillance.
The Attorney of Pakistan General Khalid Jawed Khan says civil society groups would be in close consultation to decide the future.
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The rules set in November require social media companies to comply with all government pleas for censorship within a day. In some strict cases, this time can be a mere six hours.
This is part of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which was passed in 2016.
These rules allow Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to censor content they think is hateful and un-islamic. Moreover, they can also censor content that they deem inappropriate or damaging to national interests.
The Unlimited Powers of the Law
This effectively means that departments can ban online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube if they do not comply with censorship pleas.
In addition, the government has the power to force apps IM apps to share user usage data with authorities without judicial oversight. PTA can even impose huge fines of up to $3.14m in case of non-compliance.
Rights groups decried the rules as being violative of citizens’ freedom of expression rights and having been passed without adequate consultations with civil society, while technology companies – including tech giants Google, Facebook, and others – said the rules’ data localization and decryption requirements would be impracticable.
“Every time civil society, social media platforms, and internet companies have pushed back against the social media rules and regulations, the government has promised a more transparent and wide-ranging consultative process, and then come back with many of the same objectionable rules intact,” said journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi, who is one of the petitioners in the case at the Islamabad High Court.
‘Review’ Promises Removal Of Controversial Clauses
“We had no choice but to go to court. The attorney general’s promise for a review is reason to hope. Particularly so with the court as a kind of guarantor.” say activists.
Other rights activists, however, warned that they had little faith in the government’s promises to review the rules.
Activists think that the government could have started out by being more transparent and approachable. The Pakistani government is notorious for repeated changes to the rules as per their discretion. They do so without paying any heed to the requests of the users.
Technology companies have also expressed “alarm” at the regulations, with the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a regional organization that represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others, saying in December that the government’s consultative processes so far had been “neither credible nor transparent”.