Internet giants threaten to suspend services in Pak over new regulations


PTI, Feb 29, 2020, 4:53 PM IST

Islamabad: Internet giants, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, have threatened to suspend their services in Pakistan over the new censorship rules introduced by the government, according to a media report.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government announced a new set of rules to regulate social media activity and has given all digital companies and social media platforms three months to adhere to the new regulations.

Under the new rules, social media companies will be obliged to disclose any information or data to a designated investigation agency, when sought. Failure to abide by any of the provisions will entail a fine of up to Rs 500 million.

In a letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan on February 15, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and other tech giants urged the government to revise the new sets of rules and regulations for social media, the News International reported on Friday.

The internet giants, however, threatened to suspend their services in the country if the rules are not amended, the report said.

“The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses,” the letter said, referring to the Citizens’ Protection Rules.

Expressing concern over the new set of rules, the AIC said that the government had not taken into confidence stakeholders before introducing them.

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) is an industry association that comprises leading internet and technology companies, namely Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Grab, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, and Yahoo.

Terming the new regulations as “vague and arbitrary in nature”, the AIC said that the way they were passed was causing international companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan and their willingness to operate in the country.

Under regulations that were approved by the Cabinet late last month but were not immediately made public, social media companies will be obliged to help law enforcement agencies access data and to remove online content deemed unlawful.

The new set of rules were approved at a cabinet meeting without being brought up in Parliament for discussion.

According to the report, the AIC said it was not against the regulation of content on social media but was concerned about internet freedom in the country.

“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,” the AIC said.

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

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