Islamabad, 24th October 2020: The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), has released a statement objecting to “the process through which the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules” – formerly known as the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules” – were formulated” and holds that this is “causing international companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, as well as their willingness to operate in the country”.
The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), is an industry association of leading Internet and technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon among others. The Coalition, that had engaged with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and a consultative committee formed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, to deliberate on the Rules, holds that the process through which the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard( Rules) have been notified “conflicts with the Prime Minister’s February statement that urged the consultation committee to “undertake extensive and broad-based consultation” with all relevant stakeholders”.
The statement also says that this “process calls into question the government’s commitment to public-private dialogue that is needed to realise Pakistan’s digital policy goals”.
In the statement the AIC has also urged the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication to “reconsider its approach in working with Industry and to adopt policy approaches that will support, not impede, the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy” and requests the Government to hold the “extensive and broad-based consultation process”.
Criticism Mounts from Global and Local Stakeholders
The AIC statement comes just two weeks after the AIC wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, expressing concerns over the “lack of consultation” on the rules, and saying that the consultation process initiated over the rules seemed to “have lost credibility”.
The statement has also followed a joint statement by 14 local civil society and media groups and over 40 activists, lawyers and journalists, calling for immediate release of the draft of updated Rules and asking for the initiation of “a sincere, efficient, and representative consultative process.
Notified, but Confidential and Secret?
Despite multiple statements, letters and requests, the updated Rules remains outside public access. Even though a notification issued by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication shows that the updated rules have been notified on 16th of October 2020, the Ministry and the PTA have both failed to provide a copy of the Rules despite repeated attempts by DRM and other journalists.
The new statement by AIC released on 23rd October 2020, the AIC letter to the Prime Minister dated 6th October 2020 and the Joint statement by Civil Society, journalists and lawyer bodies published on 15th October 2020 have all reiterated that the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules should be made public urgently.