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ISLAMABAD: The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), a group of global digital media giants, has raised several concerns about the potential tabling of Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB), E-Safety Authority Bill and upcoming amendments to the Prevention of Electronic Grimes Act (PEGA) and the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules (RBUOC), saying the legislation will severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy

Jeff Paine, managing director AIC conveyed these concerns through a letter written to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

In its current state, Pakistan risks becoming a global outlier, needlessly isolating and depriving Pakistani users and businesses from the growth potential of the internet economy, Paine added.

“Amidst the prevailing economic challenges confronting the nation, it is imperative that economic recovery, policy certainty, and predictability be prioritized to foster investor trust and commitment to Pakistan,” said Paine, adding that regrettably, the AIC members find cause for significant concern in the opaque process through which these laws are set to be passed in Pakistan.

The initial reassurances of extensive and broad-based consultation, particularly from the minister of law and justice, minister of information technology and telecommunication, the foreign minister and the special assistant to the prime minister, have not materialised, leaving the Association deeply alarmed.

“Despite promises of forward-looking governance and a willingness to address stakeholders’ concerns, the actual consultation process has proven neither credible nor transparent. This has completely eroded investor trust as they grapple with significant legislative uncertainty. Additionally, the speed with which these legislations are being rushed is causing international companies to re-evaluate their willingness to operate in the country,” the MD added.

The letter further noted that as an industry association, AIC strongly believes in the potential for multi-stakeholder dialogue to shape policies and legislation to foster innovation and technological advancement.

However, the proposed legislation will severely cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy. AIC members recognize Pakistan’s strong potential, but this sudden announcement belies the Government of Pakistan’s claims that it is open for business and investment. In fact, the legislation and rules as currently written would make it difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.

“Prime Minister, we know that you share our vision of a dynamic, digital economic ‘ecosystem for Pakistan, where platforms such as those of our members continue for drive substantial economic growth.

To fulfil this vision and to ensure that Pakistan becomes a lucrative destination for technology investment and achieve its digital transformation objectives, we earnestly call upon the Government to collaborate with the industry in establishing practical and transparent regulations that preserve the advantages of the internet while balancing the interest of the county,” he added.

AIC and its members have consistently extended offers to engage in this partnership, and we reiterate our unwavering commitment to this endeavour. Together, we can foster an environment that encourages innovation, investment, and progress in the digital landscape, benefiting both the nation and its citizens.

We also wish to highlight that the AIC is not against regulation but we believe that the legislation must address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to privacy and individual expression. Doing otherwise would derail the efforts that your government and the ICT industry have painstakingly invested in for many years, Paine added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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