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Pakistani civil society groups boycott consultation on social media rules

Photo showing a laptop, a book and a smartphone chained under lock and key. Censorship.

Over a hundred Pakistani civil society organisations have boycotted the country’s consultation on its notified social media regulations, Dawn reported. A statement signed by over thirty organisations and twice as many individuals, including former senators, decried the Pakistani government’s “Rules that were devised in bad faith”. No civil society members are part of the committee members who will be part of the consultation.

On February 28, the Pakistani government announced that the consultation would last two months. The committee leading it will be led by the chairperson of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Amir Azeem Bajwa. Apart from bureaucrats, it includes the Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari and lawyer Ali Zafar.

The consultation process is odd since it comes after the Rules, called the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 were passed. Activists are demanding its withdrawal before they participate in the consultation. “The citizen ‘protection’ rules are the most recent in a long chain of events that illustrate how the state is expanding its surveillance apparatus,” Anum Malkani, a technology policy consultant in Pakistan, wrote for Dawn. The law requires data localisation in Pakistan and quick takedowns in response to complaints.

Read: Social media cos must take down illegal content within 24 hrs in Pakistan, according to new rules

The rules’ demands mirror much of what the Indian government has asked for in the past. However, it is much more far-reaching, requiring unprecedented access by investigators into practically any data they ask for access to. Fines extend up to 50 crore Pakistani rupees (~₹23.7 crore).

The Rules’ stringent demands of social media companies alarmed global technology companies. In an earlier letter to the prime minister through the Asia Internet Coalition, Twitter, Facebook and Google had even threatened to stop offering their services in the country altogether.

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