LAHORE: The provincial cabinet approved the province’s first IT policy on the last day of its expiration of tenure here on May 31, 2018.
According to the Punjab Information Technology Board, PITB’s twitter account, the policy focuses on five pillars namely support for IT industry, bridge the digital divide, e governance, citizen centric services and entrepreneurship.
Punjab IT Policy focuses on 5 key pillers (1) Support for IT Industry (2) Bridge the Digital Divide (3) e-Governance (4) Citizen-centric Services (5) Entrepreneurship
— PunjabITBoard (@PITB_Official) June 1, 2018
— PunjabITBoard (@PITB_Official) June 1, 2018
According to the Policy document, it was formulated after a combination of in house desk research undertaken by researchers at PITB, 50 individual consultations and 20 focus group discussions carried out with a range of academia, IT professionals, government departments, industry professionals et al.
The policy comes in the backdrop of the approval of National Digital Pakistan Policy 2017 that was also approved on the last day of the national cabinet.
Digital Rights Monitor reviewed the Punjab’s first digital policy from the digital rights perspective. Here are some of the salient features of the policy:
Throughout the policy document, there was only one place where the policy referred to digital rights and proposed to lobby with federal government to introduce laws related to digital rights. On another occasion, it also proposed setting up a Digital Advocacy Task Force comprising of government, civil society and industry representatives. As per the policy, the task force will provide recommendations to the government to deal with challenges such as cyber bullying, harassment, net neutrality and censorship.
Internet access-a basic utility:
The policy has made commitment to reduce the digital divide across gender, region, and economic classes. Recognizing internet access as a basic utility, it commits to first undertake research to map IT penetration, usage and firm presence in different cities of Punjab to assess digital divide. It commits to reducing internet costs by removing sales tax for mobile broadband services and partnering with private sector. It also intends to install wi-fi hotspots in major urban centers of Pakistan and set up PITB.
Digital Literacy and local content:
Under the policy, the government intends to launch Digital Literacy program under which at least one member of the household will be made digitally literate for the next five years.
The policy also commits to a number of measures to make available online the local content. In this regard, it commits to digitalization of libraries in Punjab and make available online the existing written, audio and video content in local languages and make it available online. The policy also talks about launching the digital content initiative through which online audio text based content will be produced in local languages.
The policy does not elaborate much on how the rising concerns around data protection will be addressed. However, referring to the term “data security”, it commits to introducing Punjab’s first data security policy and lobby with federal government to introduce a law in this area by bringing together multiple stakeholders on a single platform.
Digital Intellectual Property:
The policy does not make a clear commitment on how it will safeguard the digital intellectual property rights. It only states that intellectual property is a federal subject but at best, could lobby with the federal government to introduce laws in this area.
Realizing the fact that “knowledge investments, knowledge distribution through formal and informal networks is essential to economic performance”, the policy also promises to provide unhindered access to huge amounts of data generated by the government. It specifically envisions launching an “Open data” initiative where all the data generated by the government departments will be made available.
The policy commits to lobbying and facilitation for e commerce legislation and e-payments with the government. It intends to facilitate the setting up of fin-tech research centers to test innovative solutions for increasing financial inclusion.
The complete policy commitments undertaken in the Punjab IT Policy 2018 can be read here.
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.