[Pakistan] AIC Submits a Letter to the PM on Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020 [Dec 2020]

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AIC issued a Letter to the Prime Minister Imran Khan on Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020.

During these difficult times of COVID-19 economic recovery,  policy certainty and predictability are fundamental to building investor trust and commitment to Pakistan. AIC members are alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new Rules, as well as the opaque process by which these rules were finalized. The extensive and broad-based consultation that you had promised stakeholders in February never occurred. PTA had committed during bilateral meetings with AIC and its member companies to share a draft copy of the Rules. Furthermore, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication recently updated the Rules on their website without explanation or due process. Industry stakeholders have therefore lost trust in the consultation process because it is neither credible nor transparent.

As an industry association, AIC strongly believes in the potential for multi-stakeholder dialogue to shape policies and legislation to foster innovation and technological advancement. However, the Rules, as currently notified and gazetted, would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their platforms and services available to Pakistani users and businesses. If Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm. The AIC and its members have made a number of offers to undertake this partnership previously and we reiterate to you today this commitment.

Instead of clarifying the scope of the powers given to the PTA, these rules create further confusion for both users and online platforms in Pakistan. Large portions of the Rules are not only unworkable for global internet platforms, they go beyond the scope of the Parent Act (PECA 2016), putting their legality into question. In particular, the data localization requirements in the Rules will prevent Pakistani citizens from accessing a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. Moreover, the PTA’s powers have been expanded excessively, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression.

The Rules must address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy. Holding a transparent consultation where stakeholder feedback is acknowledged and reflected in draft revisions will instil trust in the policymaking process and allow AIC and its members to further develop effective solutions to support Pakistan’s continued digital growth and transformation.