In statement, regulator maintains right to freedom of speech and expression has been protected in line with Constitution of Pakistan
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Friday claimed The Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020 would not pose any threat to the country’s business environment—and would instead boost investment opportunities.
“PTA wishes to dispel prejudiced and wrong impression being created regarding the rules,” read a statement issued by the regulatory body. “It is reiterated that the rules in no sense aim to harm the business environment in Pakistan rather would pave the way for better investment opportunities for tech companies while remaining compliant with local laws,” it said, adding that the PTA would “continue to support all tech companies and stakeholders in realizing digital transformation goals, within the bounds of the country’s laws and relevant rules.”
According to the PTA statement, the rules were framed as a statutory requirement under Section 37(2) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016. It said a “comprehensive consultation process was carried out by the Consultation Committee formed on the directions of the prime minister,” and sought to dispel the impression that stakeholders had not been brought on board.
“During the process, key local and international stakeholders were invited in the interest of broad-based consultation, active engagement and open dialogue, including Asian Internet Coalition (AIC) and its members i.e. Google, Facebook, Twitter etc,” read the press release. It said Facebook, Google and Twitter were also approached for consultation individually, adding that the committee and AIC had exchanged views on the rules during a meeting on June 19, 2020.
The PTA claimed that Facebook and Google also participated in the consultation process on June 26 and June 29, respectively. It alleged that AIC’s stance that meaningful consultation was not carried out was “misleading and against the facts.”
The regulator claimed the consultative committee was bound to timelines mandated by the Islamabad High Court and the federal government, adding that the process could not be kept open-ended and prolonged indefinitely. “Therefore, after due consultation, the final report of the committee was submitted to the federal government, considering all reasonable concerns and recommendations of stakeholders, remaining within the legal provisions and the tenets of the Constitution of Pakistan and PECA 2016,” it said, stressing that the right to freedom of speech and expression had been included in the rules, in accordance with Article 19 of the Constitution.
AIC is a group of 15 American tech companies and social media platforms, including Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, CloudFlare, Booking.Com, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Amazon and Expedia Group. The group, earlier this month, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, calling for a “credible consultation process.” It claimed that the PTA never shared a draft copy of the new rules despite committing to do so during meetings.
“Industry stakeholders have therefore lost trust in the consultation process, because it is neither credible nor transparent,” read the letter, adding that large portions of the rules—including the demand for unencrypted access to user data and a localized “firewall”—were unworkable for global internet platforms.