Social media companies (Image Source: Reuters)
US tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have threatened to leave Pakistan after the country granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.
The tech firms expressed “alarm” over the scope of the new law and put out a statement against the move via the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) on November 19. AIC also comprises of Apple, Amazon, Airbnb, Booking.com, Cloudflare, Expedia Group, Grab, Line, LinkedIn, Rakuten, SAP and Yahoo.
Here’s is what has upset them about Pakistan’s new law:
>> Imran Khan-led Pakistan government has notified a new law it proposed in February 2020, which grants the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) a free hand to “remove or block” content deemed unfit.
>> The rules, titled Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020, have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (Peca).
>> The rules include permission for the PTA to remove content deemed harmful, intimidating or exciting disaffection towards the government or content deemed hurtful to the integrity, security, and defence of Pakistan.
>> The new law imposes a fine of up to $3.14 million on social media companies failing to remove or block the “unlawful content” within 24 hours of notice from authorities, and makes it mandatory for them to have local offices in Pakistan.
>> The global internet firms said they were "alarmed" by the scope of Pakistan's new law targeting internet firms, as well as the government’s opaque process by which these new rules were developed.
>> They also noted that promised consultations with them did not occur. Dawn reported that the companies had “repeatedly urged the government to adopt a comprehensive consultation strategy”.
>> "The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression," the statement read.
>> The statement also noted that the rules would make it difficult for AIC members to make services available to Pakistani users and businesses and decrease Pakistan’s attractiveness as a destination for technology investment.
>> “We urge the government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm," it added.