A Pakistani government spokesperson has said that the new online content rules 2020 aim to protect the country’s social fabric against Hybrid Warfare by anti-state elements in the region. The cyber laws he said were a firewall against the misinformation being spread by anti-state elements.
He explained the Pakistani state needed to defend itself against this speeding invasion of chaotic cyberspace, which was nothing less than an “unhealthy ingress, impacting society’s social fiber.”
In a statement, the spokesperson said it The statement comes when an EU based organization is revealed the huge amount of disinformation and fifth-generation warfare unleashed against Pakistan by over 750 fake Indian news outlets, operating from 119 countries, over 10 UN-accredited NGOs.
Important proceedings in the Islamabad High Court today: Chief Justice Athar Minallah said that the Removal & Blocking of Online Content Rules 2020 (#socialmediarules) are prima facile against Article 19 & 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.
We urge Cabinet to denotify them.
— Bolo Bhi (@BoloBhi) December 4, 2020
EU DininfoLab, an independent investigating agency, reported this week that India had had a vast propaganda network working against primarily Pakistan but also China since 2005. The network seeks to spread misinformation about Pakistan and seeks to create a negative narrative about Pakistan in the EU and the West in general.
The spokesperson further said that the revised social media rules were prepared by a committee constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan under the Chairman PTA, after a due consultation process with various relevant national and international stakeholders.
He said the draft rules after vetting by the Ministry of Law Justice were processed by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom for the Cabinet and were approved on Oct 6.
The spokesperson pointed out that social media platforms were being exploited by various quarters in Pakistan to spread fake and false narratives.
“The new rules define boundaries to protect masses from various online negativity including blasphemy, discrediting state, abusing institutions, appointments, individuals, inciting sectarian or ethnic hate and harassment, etc.”
He said the present government had shown the will to enact laws better and implemented them to manage the internet environment better.
He said the decision had drawn some response from internet watchdogs, NGOs, and activists trying to create a controversy.
“Every state adopts and enacts a set of laws that conform to its ideology, all domains of national security and foreign policy aims,” he said.
Pakistan’s digital economy was estimated to increase to the tune of US 5.5 Billion$, which was growing at a 100% annual rate in some domains. The rules have virtually no impact on e-Commerce, he pointed.
He said local NGOs and activists fear that global tech companies may be forced to shut down their Pakistan operations. However, the huge amount of business that these tech giants generate in Pakistan will never be compromised for laws that do not impact their revenue in essence.
The spokesperson said it was the obligation of any state to ensure a chaos-free society to reduce and eliminate the adverse impact of fake, false, immoral, unethical, anti-religious news rumors, posts, analysis.
“This national obligation is protected and furthered by the enacted rules,” he added.
He pointed out that the removal, blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2020 has not been prepared in thin air; rather, a complete process was followed.
The engagement was carried out with the Tech companies, ISPs, digital watchdogs, legal fraternity, and the general public for input. The document was compiled in conformity with Article 19 of the constitution (Chapter II, para 4 of PECA), the spokesperson said.
Social media companies write to the Prime Minister about cyber laws
In response to the government’s new laws, social media companies wrote ‘letters’ to the prime minister saying that the right to individual expression and stakeholders’ opinions must be taken into context before policymaking on social media rules.
The Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards), Rules 2020 was introduced in November.
The rules have been introduced under Sub-section (2) of Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, which talks about “unlawful online content.”
In the letter published on its website, the Asia Internet Coalition said that it was “alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new Rules, as well as the opaque process by which these rules were finalized.”
They asked Pakistan to work with the industry to introduce rules that guarantee freedom of speech and a safe online experience.
In their present form, the rules make it “extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their platforms and services available to Pakistani users and businesses,” the tech companies said.
They force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression, they added.
A summary of the new laws
The rules say that no user or social media company, service provider, information system, or website owner can host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any online content that:
- Belongs to another person or to which the user does not have any right to
- Is blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, pedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy
- Violates or affects religious, cultural, ethnic sensitivities of Pakistan
- Harms minors in any way
- Impersonates someone
- Threatens the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or public order or causes incitement to any offense under the Act
“…invasive of another’s privacy” is vague in the absence of a cyber data protection law in Pakistan. Digital rights activists have repeatedly asked successive governments to make data privacy laws, but no significant progress has been made. The law is supposed to say what personal data is for a person, the rules for who owns it, and how and if the government and private institutions can use it.
GVS News Desk