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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) has modified “the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021”, saying that services of service provider or social media company would be degraded, blocked or imposed with a penalty of up to Rs500 million, if fails to remove or block access to the online content or to comply with the directions.

The ministry further stated that “the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020” and “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020”, are repealed.

The modified draft rules will provide for, among other matters, safeguards, process and mechanism for exercise of powers by the Authority under the Act for removal or blocking access to unlawful online content through any information system.

The rules stated that every person or organisation shall have the right to express and disseminate any online content as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.

Provided that the authority shall not restrict, disrupt flow or dissemination of any online content unless it considers it necessary for the reasons as prescribed in Section 37(1) of the Act subject to due process of law.

Provided further that, without prejudice to the generality of the powers in Section 37(1) of the Act, the removal or blocking access to an online content would be considered necessary in the interest of: (i) glory of Islam, (ii) security of Pakistan, (iii) public order, (iv) decency and morality, and (v) integrity or defence of Pakistan.

The Authority shall entertain complaints with regard to an online content.

A complaint for blocking or removal of online content may be filed by: (i) any person, or his/her guardian, where such person is a minor, aggrieved by online content; or (ii) a ministry, division, attached department, sub-ordinate office, provincial or local department or office, a law enforcement or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government.

In case a service provider or a social media company, as the case may be, fails to remove or block access to the online content or to comply with the directions issued by the Authority under Rule 6 (2) within the specified time, the Authority may initiate action as per following procedure: (i) serve a written notice requiring the service provider or the social media company to remedy the contravention and give a written explanation to the satisfaction of the Authority for non-compliance with directions or orders of the Authority within 48 hours.

(ii) If the service provider or the social media company fails to respond to the notice or satisfy the Authority in respect of the alleged contravention as referred to in sub-rule, (i), the Authority may by order in writing take any of the following actions: (a) degrade the services of such service provider or social media company for such period of time as deemed appropriate by the Authority; or (b) block or issue directions for blocking of the entire Online Information System. Provided further that notwithstanding anything contained under clause (ii) of sub-rule (7), the Authority shall block Online Information System in compliance with the directions of the court or on the written directions of the federal government or Ministry of Interior, as the case may be, issued under any law for the time being in force.

The service provider and social media company shall not knowingly host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content, and shall not allow the transmission, select the receiver of transmission, and select or modify the information contained in the transmission in violation of local laws.

Provided that the following actions by a service provider and social media company shall not amount to hosting, publishing, editing or storing of any such information as specified in sub-rule (1): (a) temporary or transient or intermediary storage of Information automatically within the Online Information System as an essential feature of such Online Information System, involving no exercise of any human editorial control, for onward transmission or communication to another information system; or (b) removal of access to any information, data or communication link by a service provider and social media company after such information, data, communication link comes to the actual knowledge of a person authorized by the social media company pursuant to any order or direction as per the provisions of the Act.

The service provider and the social media company shall provide to the investigation agency designated or established under section 29 of the Act, any information or data or content or sub-content contained in any Online Information System owned or managed or run by the respective service provider or social media company, in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

The service provider and the social media company shall deploy mechanisms to ensure immediate blocking of live streaming through online information system in Pakistan of any Online Content particularly, related to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, pornographic, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security on receiving intimation from the Authority.

A significant social media company, in addition to the other obligations under rule 8, shall: (a) register itself with the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (b) establish a permanent office in Pakistan with a physical address preferably located in Islamabad, within six months of the coming into force of these rules; (c) appoint an authorised compliance officer, based in Pakistan, for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act, these Rules and directions of the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (d) appoint a dedicated grievance officer based in Pakistan for the redressal of grievances received by him against online content, within three months of the coming into force of these rules. The grievance officer shall expeditiously redress the complaints but not later than seven days from receipt of the complaint.

The significant social media company shall publish on its online information systems the name of the grievance officer and his contact detail as well as mechanism by which User or any complainant who suffers as a result of access or usage of Online Information System can notify their complaints; (e) subject to the promulgation of Data Protection Law, comply with the user data privacy and data localization provisions of such law; and (f) deploy suitable content moderation methods including Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based content moderation system(s) and content moderators well versed with the local laws.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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