After extensive talks of bans and content moderation on apps like YouTube and TikTok, Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC) has approved newly drafted rules to monitor illegal, blasphemous, obscene or defamatory content on social media.
The cabinet had previously defined a set of rules in February that were heavily criticized as it stated that social media companies will be obliged to help law enforcement agencies access data and to remove online content deemed unlawful.
Under the revised set of rules, PTA will:
• Not restrict or disrupt the flow or dissemination of any online content except in the case of removing and blocking access to online content which goes against the interest of Islam, integrity, security and defence of Pakistan, public order, public health, public safety, decency and morality.
• It would also remove or block content that constitutes as an offence under different sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 1860, or of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), 1898.
• Complaints with regards to the unlawful online content which may be filed by any person or guardian wronged by online content, or by a ministry, division, attached department, subordinate office, provincial, local department or office, law enforcement agency or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government will be entertained.
• Ensuring that the online content and the identity of the complainant is kept confidential if need be, complaint will be registered.
• Will not disclose such online content and identity of the complainant to any person who is directly responsible for receiving and processing the complaints.
• A complaint will be decided by the authority within thirty days under Rule 5.
• PTA will give twenty 24 hours’ notice to the concerned parties to comply with the directions for removal or blocking access to the online content and any other directions as may be issued in the order.
• PTA may direct the service provider, social media company, owner of an information system, owner of internet website or web server and user to remove, block access to the online content complained of within six hours in emergency cases, and the authority will specify the reason for the emergency in writing.
• Under Section 37 of PECA, PTA is empowered to block or remove unlawful online content in the telecommunication sector with approval of the federal government and with the cooperation of law enforcement agencies.
• The authority may direct the concerned parties to secure information including traffic data.
Any social media company or service provider would be obligated to publish the community guidelines for usage of any online system, and such guidelines should inform the user not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any online content that belongs to another person; to which one does not have any right; or content which is blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, pedophilia; invasive of another’s privacy; negatively affects religious, cultural, ethical sensitivities of Pakistan; impersonates another person; threatens the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan; or causes incitement.
According to sources, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications, after consulting concerned stakeholders, had drafted Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020, to counter the flow of illegal, blasphemous, obscene or defamatory content on social media and forwarded these new rules to CCLC for approval.
Later, the CCLC approved these rules and the federal cabinet has recently granted its necessary ratification for implementation.