New Social Media Rules notified on 16th October; Yet to be made public

Islamabad, 21 October 2020: The Federal Government had issued a notice for the the notification of Rules for Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules 2020 on the 16th of October 2020. The Rules, that have been drafted under Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, have continued to amass criticism from local civil society and media organisations and local and international private sector technology companies.

According to the notification, acquired by DRM, the rules have been approved by the Cabinet and vetted by the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Continued lack of transparency
Despite the notification, the actual draft of the Rules has yet to be placed on the websites of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the website of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT). The continued secrecy on the rules has given rise to concerns about the sincerity of the consultative process through which these rules have been drafted.

On 15th October a group of twelve civil society organisations and journalist unions and over 49 individuals released a statement reminding the government of continued “demands and requests from civil society to make them (the rules) public” and asking for the “initiation of a sincere, efficient, and representative consultative process”.

Legal Challanges

The Rules, previously titled Citizen Protection Rules (Against Online Harms) 2020 already face legal challenges in Lahore High Court and Islamabad High Court. A total of four writ petitions, challenging the validity and legality of the rules are currently in courts.

Through W.P No. 2210/ 2020, Asad Baig Vs. FoP, filed before the IHC, it was prayed that the CP Rules be declared “ultra vires” of its parent Act, the PECA, 2016, and the PTRA, 1996, and also to declare the office of the “National Coordinator” as unlawful and unconstitutional.

In the W.P 2816/ 2020 titled “Munir Ahmed Vs. FoP & Others” filed before the LHC, the petitioner called for the implementation of the CP Rules and the regulation of social media. An intervenor application, C.M.A 5/2020, was filed by Advocate Usama Khawar in the same writ petition Through this intervenor application, also currently pending before the LHC, it was prayed that Mr. Munir’s petition is dismissed and that the Court declares the said Rules as being”frivolous, vexatious and legally misconceived.”

Another case, W.P No. 760/2020, titled “Haroon-ur-Rasheed Baloch Vs. FoP & Others“, also filed before the IHC, argues that the said Rules are violative of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and demands that the Court declares them as arbitrary and illegal.

Another writ petition, W.P No. 655/2020, titled “Ch. Muhammad Shafiq Vs. FoP & Others”, the Rules face similar challenges as the petitions mentioned above & it is prayed to the IHC that the CP Rules be declared violative of the doctrine of delegated legislation and be struck down.

All the petitions raise different points of concern with the courts and the release of the updated rules will make the validity of the original arguments clear.

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