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Are new cyber laws draconian or necessary for safety?

The government has introduced a new set of cyber laws titled the 'Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2020'

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The Ministry of Information Technology yesterday framed a new set of cyber laws titled the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020” under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA).

All stakeholders, including internet service providers, users, and digital rights activists have rejected the new rules. The new laws have been called ‘draconian’ and a violation of existing cyber laws in the country.

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The RBUOC sets all internet providers to be treated the same as social media companies and the same requirements will have to be adhered to by them as well.

The Internet Service Providers of Pakistan (ISPAK) has rejected the new rules and the association is likely to move the court of law against the new social media rules.

“We will form a strategy against the Rules as they are contrary to several clauses of PECA, such as indemnity to the internet service providers,” ISPAK convener Wahaj Siraj said while talking to Dawn.

At the moment, he said, “We are discussing a strategy against the Rules.”

He referred to several clauses of the Rules including 9(3) which states that a Social Media Company (SMC) and service provider shall deploy an appropriate mechanism for identifying online content that has been flagged.

Authoritarian laws

Digital rights activists have expressed dissatisfaction over the RBUOC rules, claiming that the government has ignored all the concerns of stakeholders except for deleting the clause regarding the establishment of the office of National Coordinator.

The government had previously tried to pass such rules earlier this year, earning the same antagonism.

The Human Rights Commision of Pakistan has issued a statement then saying, “On February 28, 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through PR No. 267 announced the formation of a committee to begin consultation on the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020. This follows the Prime Minister’s announcement to review the Rules and consult stakeholders, after the Rules drew sharp criticism locally and internationally. However, the government refuses to clarify the legal status of the Rules without which any consultation is merely token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input.”

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“While Cabinet approval for the Rules remains in place, there can be no engagement or consultation. This only shows the government’s intent to use the consultation as a smokescreen while intending to implement and enforce the Rules already prepared and approved. The Rules as they exist, merit no discussion at all. How citizens are to be protected requires an open and informed discussion which takes into account existing procedures, laws as well as how they have been applied. The abuse of authority by the PTA and government, especially their misuse of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to stifle dissent and Section 37 of PECA in particular to report and restrict political speech, will have to be addressed first.”

“We also call upon tech companies to unequivocally state the terms of their engagement with the government on the Rules. Too often, citizens and end users become collateral in agreements governments and companies reach in breach of their rights, and we wish to remind them their actions will be scrutinized against adherence to global best practices and international principles to protect expression and privacy.”

“It is a draconian law, there is too much government involvement in the affairs of social media,” said Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation, speaking about the new cyber laws.

GVS News Desk

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