The Asia Internet Coalition has urged the Pakistan government to revoke its newly-approved social media rules, warning that such regulations to control cyber space will make it extremely difficult for companies to operate and cripple the country’s economy.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government last week 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 rules.
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.
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.
Managing Director AIC Jeff Paine said the government’s new rules to regulate social media activity will make it “extremely difficult” for digital companies to operate in Pakistan.
In a letter sent to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and other senior officials dealing with technology and digital/social media, he said the new rules were against the basic right of expression and information.
Paine warned that while members recognise Pakistan’s strong potential for investment and business, the sudden announcement of these rules belies the government of Pakistan’s claims that it is open for business and investment.
“In fact, the rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses,” he said.
The letter also said that AIC was deeply concerned to see the Pakistan government release a set of broad reaching online rules without any consultation with stakeholders, including the industry.
Though the government has insisted that the new rules have been created for the protection of citizens, rights groups, media bodies and opposition members in Parliament have expressed concern that they are meant to curb freedom of expression and sharing of information.
“We urge the government of Pakistan to consider the potential consequences of the rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy,” the letter said.
It said the AIC members had been working in consultation with governments on this challenge for years, using both computer science tools and human reviewers to identify and stop a range of online abuse.
The letter also observed that the rules were vague and arbitrary in nature, which was a result of the absence of public consultation.
The lack of such discussion was problematic given that the rules demanded that social media companies deviate from established human rights practices concerning user privacy and freedom of expression.
The letter said the way these rules were passed was causing international companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, and their willingness to work and invest 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.
AIC seeks to promote the understanding of Internet policy issues in the Asia-Pacific region.