The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication notified on Thursday amended social media rules which state 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 rules, titled the 'Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021', have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016.
Federal Minister for Information and Technology Aminul Haque, in a statement, said that all social media companies would have to abide by Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users.
"Under the amended rules, Pakistani users will have the full right to freedom of expression under Article 19 [of the Constitution]," he said.
Under the new rules, there would be a ban on the live streaming of terrorist, hateful, obscene and violent content, and "social media companies will be liable to remove content against Pakistan's honour and well-being".
Moreover, spreading "immoral and obscene content" will also be a punishable offence after the passage of the rules.
The rules also ask social media organisations and service providers to develop community guidelines that could inform users about uploading content.
Moreover, the rules also direct social media companies to establish an office in Pakistan.
As per the new rules, the PTA can start proceedings against any service provider or a social media company that fails to remove or block access to content or comply with PTA's directions within a specified timeframe.
A complaint about 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, law enforcement or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government.
The rules will provide for, among other matters, safeguards, processes and mechanisms for the exercise of powers by the Authority under the Act for removal or blocking access to unlawful online content through any information system.
Earlier, Haque said that social media is the fastest and popular platform for digital communication, but some elements are utilising it for their “malicious desires”.
“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 the 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.