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coronavirus
Coronavirus
VERY HIGH
Source: covid.gov.pk
Pakistan Deaths
29,137
1524hr
Pakistan Cases
1,386,348
5,19624hr
Sindh
531,008
Punjab
467,698
Balochistan
34,032
Islamabad
120,813
KPK
186,537

Pakistan is not alone when it comes to governments placing curbs on what happens online. A recent report by Freedom House, a DC-based think tank, shows that the so-called ‘internet freedom’ has declined globally for 11th straight year. Authoritarian measures that have been used internationally to tame the digital expressions include denial of internet access, online censorship, blocking entire social media platforms, invading private user data, and even arrests for peaceful online expression.

To be clear, governments have a responsibility to regulate online content to penalize malignant activities like online harassment, cyber bullying, identity theft, digital scams, deceptive marketing, etc. Unfortunately, the Internet has ventured into the dark side as well, quite far away from what the founders of the Worldwide Web had hoped: to have cross-border information exchange and collaboration across multiple fields for the benefit of all mankind. But as governments try to rein in bad behavior online, they are vulnerable to overstepping their mandate to suit other interests.

The said report has classified Pakistan’s internet landscape as ‘not free’ – a distinction this country shares with 21 other countries (including Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Thailand and Viet Nam) in a sample of 70 countries. Meanwhile, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the region are rated as ‘partly free’. Major Western countries like the US, UK, Canada, Germany and France are ‘free’. Pakistan received a score of 25 out of 100, ranking 64th on Internet Freedom among the 70 countries.

The report singles out Pakistan’s November 2020 Social Media Rules (Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content – Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) as the main bone of contention. One of the government’s demands was to have social media companies set up data centers locally in Pakistan. On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with that, as data security needs to be ensured.

But the problem arises when a government starts demanding access to private data without reasonable cause. Those rules allow the investigation agencies to demand user data, without encryption, from social media companies. The latter do not want to set bad precedents for other governments, so they have been against the rules through the platform of Asia Internet Coalition. Leading tech firms have also been against the requirement to establish local office presence.

Meanwhile, civil society members have been worried about freedom of expression, due to lack of objective criteria in the rules for harmful or unlawful content. Those concerns need to be addressed. The PM had formed a committee in March this year to resolve the issues. However, in June, a new draft was published, which again did not satisfy leading social media firms and activists. This impasse has to be resolved, for it does not send a good signal to tech investors interested in Pakistan.

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Mushtaque Ahmed Sep 23, 2021 11:16pm
Deep fake is emerging as another area of concern for regulators to handle. While the internet is allowing global free communication, all illegitimate content must be checked for causing social disorder and the platforms hosting such content must be held liable.
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