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Tech giants threaten to suspend services in Pakistan-What’s next?

Tech giants threaten to suspend services in Pakistan. What’s next?
Following the decision to introduce social media regulatory laws in Pakistan by the incumbent government, a coalition comprises digital media giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter and others threatened to suspend services in Pakistan if rules were not revised.
Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) penned a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan and called on the government to revise the new set of rules and regulations for social media.
The letter reads, “The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make the services available to Pakistani users and businesses.”
Let’s take an in-depth review of the government stance and the Tech giants statement
The Policy
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI)-led government has introduce a new policy regarding social media in which a set of rules have been formulated which social media companies have to follow.
These new policies are included in the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016.
According to new policy, the social media companies have to establish registered offices in Islamabad within three months and should appoint a Pakistan-based focal person for coordination with the concerned authorities.
The companies will also have to establish database servers in Pakistan within 12 months to record and store data.
The new policy further stated that the social media companies will be obliged to disclose any information or data to a designated investigation agency when sought and failure to abide by any provision will entail a fine of up to Rs 500 million.
Social media platforms will be required to remove any ‘unlawful content’ within 24 hours, and in emergency cases within six hours.
Government’s stance
Speaking on regulating social media, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that social media laws are aimed at protecting citizens, not trouncing positive views or political differences.
Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry also defended the newly formulated policy. He said that the government’s step was to tackle harmful content and fake accounts.
He also denied the rumors that the government aims to put curbs on social media through regulations and said that no country tolerates outward flow of money without a framework.
PM’s Special aide Firdous Ashiq Awan also safeguarded the policy by terming it protection of citizens.
She said that social media was disturbing the society through sexual abuse, pornography, child abuse, and hate speech, adding that the government will not take any steps that would harm the users’ interest.
The Penned Letter by AIC
Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and other Tech giants penned a letter to PM Imran to revise the formulated policy of social media regulatory.
The AIC questioned the way the government approved the rules and said, “The government had not taken the stakeholders in confidence before introducing the regulations.”
AIC said, “The regulations were causing international companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan and their willingness to operate in the country.”
Commenting on the formulated rules, AIC termed it as vague and arbitrary in nature, adding that it was forcing them to go against established norms of user privacy and freedom of expression.
The Coalition further said, “We are not against regulation of social media and we acknowledge that Pakistan already has an extensive legislative framework governing online content. However, these rules fail to address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy.”
The AIC urged the government to think about potential consequences of Rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy.
Committee Formed
The Information Technology Ministry has formed a committee to review the rules of new social media policy after an uproar continues from various segments of society and Asia Internet Coalition.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa will head the committee while its members are Eazaz Aslam Dar, additional secretary of IT; Tania Andrus, member of the Strategic Reforms Imple­mentation Unit, Prime Minister Office; and Dr Arslan Khalid, focal person on digital media at the PM Office. Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari and Barrister Ali Zafar will also be involved in consultations.
The committee will undertake broad-based consultation with relevant segments of civil society and technology companies about these rules and complete the process within two months.
What’s Next?
The formulated laws by the incumbent government of Pakistan are against the policies of social media giants; as these countries never shared any data of their users. Facebook has been fined three times over privacy violations and now the tech giant will try to improve its privacy standard and will not share its users’ data. If Google, Twitter and Facebook are shut down in Pakistan, 70 million people will be affected and the economy will suffer. And after the threat from AIC, the government has to revise the policy and should considered Internet freedom.
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