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ISLAMABAD: The services of a social media company, a significant social media company or a service provider would be degraded, blocked or imposed with a penalty of up to Rs500 million, if it fails to remove or blocked access to the online content or to comply with the directions, says “The Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021”.

The Cabinet has approved the social media rules, a copy of which is available with Business Recorder, which 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.

The new rules have relaxed the earlier condition of establishing office in Pakistan within six months of the coming into force of rules and stated that upon the direction of the Authority, establish an office in Pakistan, as and when feasible.

The rules 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(Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020” and “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020”, are repealed.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 new rules shall apply only to those licensees, which provide social media or social network services.

The 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 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 under 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 an online content or to comply with the directions issued by the Authority under sub-rule (2) within the specified time, the Authority may initiate action as per following procedure: (i) serve a written notice requiring the service provider, social media company or significant social media company to remedy the contravention and give a written explanation within 48 hours to the satisfaction of the authority for non-compliance with directions of the authority.

(ii) where the service provider, social media company or significant 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 after affording an opportunity of hearing and by order in writing take any of the following actions: (a) degrade the services of such service provider or social media company or significant 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 or (c) impose a penalty up to Rs500 million.

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 the Ministry of Interior, as the case may be, issued under any other law for the time being in force.

The service provider, social media company and significant social media company shall not knowingly host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content in violation of local laws.

Provided that the following actions by a service provider, social media company and significant social media company shall not amount to hosting, publishing, editing or storing of any such information as specified in sub-rule (3): (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 by a service provider, social media company and significant social media company after information, data, communication link comes to the actual knowledge of 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, hate speech, pornographic, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security on receiving intimation from the Authority.

A significant social media company, shall: (a) register itself with the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (b) establish an office in Pakistan upon the directions of the Authority with a physical address preferably located in Islamabad; (c) appoint an authorized 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 contact details 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) comply with the user data privacy and data localization in accordance with applicable laws 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.

Federal Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication Aminul Haque said that social media is the fastest and popular platform for digital communication, however some elements are utilising it for their “malicious desires”.

Such acts not only affected consumers but also have negative consequences as well as with respect to religious, moral, values and State’s and defence interests.

He further said that it is the responsibility of the State of Pakistan to protect the basic rights, lives, and properties.

Likewise, digital world has its own challenges and it is indispensable to protect online data, social, moral, and religious rights, Haque added.

“We have maintained our position in principle everywhere that Pakistan is a staunch supporter of any innovation and business development in the field of information technology. Our policies have huge incentives for foreign investors. We are also providing facilities and opening up vast Pakistani markets for huge profits. However, everyone will have to abide by rules of Pakistan on national security, hate speech, and immoral data,” he said.

He further said the social media rules do not mean to create issues for social media companies but the basic objective was to make ourselves aligned with the best international laws and forms regulations for social media platforms that nobody’s rights are being affected.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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