Tech industry body Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), of which Google, Facebook, and Twitter are part, issued a statement expressing alarm over the scope of new rules.
Three out of the four biggest tech and social media companies have threatened to leave Pakistan after the government introduced sweeping new rules governing tech companies in the country.
The move is being seen as an attempt by the government to scuttle freedom of expression in the deeply-conservative Islamic nation.
Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) of which Google, Facebook, and Twitter are part, issued a statement expressing alarm over the scope of new rules.
The “draconian” rules titled, “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules 2020,” have been framed under the country’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (Peca).
“AIC members are alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet companies, as well as the government’s opaque process by which these rules were developed. The consultation that was announced in February never occurred,” says the AIC statement.
Social media companies are required to provide Pakistan’s designated investigation agency “with any information or data is decrypted, readable and comprehensible format,” according to Pakistan’s DAWN newspaper. Pakistan also wants social media companies to have their offices in the country.
The coalition said the “draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world.” It said the new rules will make it difficult for its members “to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.”
There was no immediate comment from Khan’s government, which has repeatedly said it was not against freedom of expression.
Khan’s office had previously said the new rules were made after observing a delayed response in the removal of anti-Pakistan, obscene, and sectarian-related content by social media sites since 2018 when Khan’s government came into power.
Under the new regulations, social media companies are required to remove or block any unlawful content from their websites within 24 hours after being reported by Pakistani authorities.
The latest development comes weeks after Khan’s government temporarily banned the video-sharing platform TikTok, saying it took the step after receiving complaints of “immoral and indecent” content.
According to the new rules announced by the Ministry of Information and Technology on Wednesday, social media companies and internet service providers shall provide the designated investigation agency with any information or data is decrypted, readable and comprehensible format, the Dawn newspaper reported