International : Tech consortium alarmed over Pak’s new internet curbs

Islamabad, Nov 20 : With the Pakistan government announcing new rules framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, imposing more restrictions on internet usage by revealing the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020, a tech consortium has hinted at the possible withdrawal of its services from the country.

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an international tech consortium of firms including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo, has issued a statement expressing “alarm” at Pakistan government’s latest rules for online content.

“AIC is alarmed by the scope of the new rules, which target internet companies, as well as service providers and individual users who might post or share offending content,” the AIC statement read.

The AIC also expressed serious concern over what it called “government’s opaque process by which these rules were developed”.

The AIC highlighted that the stakeholder consultation process, which was promised by the Pakistan government in February, “never occurred”.

“The draconian data localisation requirements will damage the ability of the people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world,” read the AIC statement.

“It is chilling to see PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) powers expanded, allowing it to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression,” the statement added.

In February 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan had suspended the Citizen Protection Against Online Harm Rules 2020, stating that the government would seek a broad-based consultation with all thr stakeholders and formulate new policies for online content.

However, the new law has sent shock waves down the spine of the internet companies.

Under the new rules, the PTA has been empowered to block entire online systems and networks that do not comply with its request for removal of offending content, which can include criticism of the government or public office holders, and also mandates all social media companies to provide decrypted data of its entire user base.

The new rules, declared as draconian by the tech giants, has prompted an immediate response from internet-based companies, which have said that it would be extremely difficult for AIC members to make their service available to Pakistani users and businesses.

Reminding about the letter it had written to Imran Khan, the AIC reiterated that “if Pakistan truly wanted to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, it needed to pull back and work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm”.

–IANS

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