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Thursday, May 23, 2024

As Social Media Expands: Pakistan Puts a Leash Around its Neck

The widely used social networking platform WhatsApp claims to have crossed the 2 billion users milestone. It is the fastest-growing networking site. As social media expands in the world Pakistani authorities have started to tighten the leash around its neck with strict regulatory laws.

The Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp said Wednesday it now has more than two billion users around the world, as it reaffirmed its commitment to strong encryption to protect privacy.

WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook in 2014, has grown into one of the most-used services in the Facebook “family” of apps, offering free messaging along with voice and video calls.

“Private conversations that once were only possible face-to-face can now take place across great distances through instant chats and video calling,” a WhatsApp blog post said.

“There are so many significant and special moments that take place over WhatsApp and we are humbled and honored to reach this milestone.”

The statement said WhatsApp remained committed to its “strong encryption” that enables users to connect privately even amid calls by law enforcement in the United States and elsewhere to provide more access.

“Strong encryption is a necessity in modern life. We will not compromise on security because that would make people less safe,” WhatsApp said.

“For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry-leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues – without sacrificing privacy.”

Read more: Social media: Pakistan’s new challenge?

Last week, child protection organizations called on Facebook to halt plans for strong encryption of all its platforms, saying that it would allow predators to operate freely.

WhatsApp employs “end to end encryption” which can in many cases prevent law enforcement from accessing user data even with a court order.

The social network is working to extend end-to-end encryption across its messaging applications, including Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

The child protection groups said they were concerned that stronger encryption of online exchanges would facilitate the sharing of child pornography.

Backers of strong encryption argue that any special access or “backdoors” allowed for law enforcement would weaken security and could be exploited by criminals, hackers and authoritarian governments.

WhatsApp is one member of the Facebook app “family” that includes its core social network, Instagram and Messenger.

Facebook said recently some 2.89 billion people globally are daily users of at least one of these services.

But the growth has also attracted the attention of regulators and activists concerned over the dominance of major tech platforms. Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has been among those calling for the breakup of the big technology firms.

Pakistan Tightening the Noose on Social Media

Pakistan, in a bid to regulate the usage of social media platforms, has introduced a new set of rules under which Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even TikTok to register themselves and open offices in Pakistan as the concerned authorities in Pakistan are worried theta without the legal documentation, keeping a close eye on these sites is extremely difficult.

All the global social media platforms were given a time period of 3 months to register themselves with Pakistan and open the offices in Pakistan in the same time period. The social media websites will also have to appoint a representative to deal with all the communication with the government of Pakistan and will be able to regulate the content on the social media platform.

Read more: Facebook: Pakistan second in social media surveillance?

It further requires the companies to set up data servers in Pakistan within a year and makes it compulsory for them to provide data of accounts found guilty of various crimes — including targeting state institutions, spreading fake news and hate speech, engaging in harassment, issuing statements that harm national security or uploading blasphemous content — to intelligence and law enforcement agencies (LEAs).

It would be the responsibility of the authorities of the social media platform to identify and take action against the objectionable content. In case they failed to do so, a fine of Rs500 million will be imposed or government authorities will have the power to suspend its services in Pakistan.