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Business & Finance

Pakistan to review controversial internet regulations

  • While internet censorship rules in Pakistan have been criticized by many digital rights groups, the government has agreed to review these new internet regulations.
Published January 26, 2021
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While internet censorship rules in Pakistan have been criticized by many digital rights groups, the government has agreed to review these new internet regulations.

A hearing took place in Islamabad on Monday based on a petition that was filed challenging the legality of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (RBUOC) rules in Pakistan. Khalid Jawed Khan, Pakistan’s Attorney General, who was at the hearing agreed that the civil society groups would be among those invited for consultations on any revisions to these rules.

These internet regulations were passed in November to set the broad guidelines on how online content will be regulated in Pakistan. However, these new rules were soon deemed as draconian measures by many who claimed that this was an attempt to curb free speech and increase online surveillance.

According to these RBUOC rules, social media companies are required to comply with all censorship requests by the Government of Pakistan within 24 hours, and in some cases six hours. Moreover, these rules also allowed the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to censor content which seemed to violate “the glory of Islam”, the “integrity, security and defence of Pakistan”, “public order” or “decency and morality”, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Among many digital rights groups and technology companies that have expressed concerns about these new regulations, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a regional organization that represents Google, Twitter, Facebook and others, also wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan in December 2020.

The letter explained how large portions of these regulations were not sourced through a credible or transparent consultative process and were unworkable for global internet platforms.

While the revision of these internet regulations is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how these new rules will impact the country's digital economy and its citizens' access to free and open internet.

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