PTA denies knowledge of the updated Rules; confusion on implementation status continues

28 October 2020, Islamabad: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) holds that they have not been officially notified about the status of the Rules for Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules 2020 and does not yet possess the draft of the Rules that were notified.

 Talking to DRM, PTA Spokesperson, Khurram Mehran, said that PTA is yet to receive the notified Rules. He said that the Authority will make the Rules available on its website and will be able to give comments on the content of the Rules as soon as they are officially provided with the notified draft.

A notification, acquired by DRM showed that the Rules were vetted by the Ministry of Law and Justice, approved by the Cabinet and notified for publication in the Official gazette on 16th of October 2020. 

MOITT notification shows that “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules were notified on 16th October 2020


Confusion over the procedure 
According to Zafarullah Khan, former Executive Director of Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS), any set of rules comes in effect as soon as they are notified by the Cabinet. Khan holds that the publication in the gazette is an important formality, however, there is no specified time period within which these gazettes are published. And traditionally, implementation of any rules can begin right after they are approved and notified by the cabinet.

However, Khurram Mehram, the PTA spokesperson has a different understanding. Speaking to DRM, Mehran said that “in my understanding, the rules will only become applicable after they have been published in the official gazette”. The confusion over the implementation status of Rules that have been ‘notified but not published’ has persisted since February, when the original draft go Citizen Protection (Against Online Harms) Rules 2020 was suspended by the Prime Minister after notification from the Cabinet but before publication in the official gazette. 

Demands for transparency persist 
Meanwhile, civil society organisations continue to reach out to the government and other related public bodies to gain access to the notified rules. 

“We have reached out to sources within the Cabinet division. We have reached out to the Ministry of IT. We have reached out to different members of the consultative committee, just to acquire the draft of the notified rules. We have received partial draft of the Rules throughs some sources, even the notification was acquired through sources but, officially, nothing has been shared yet. The AIC has written to the Prime Minister and released a statement asking for the Rules and initiation of a credible consultation process. Local civil society, lawyers and journalists have released a statement asking for the transparency and the draft of the rules. The fact that it has been so difficult to get access to this document even when it has already been notified and technically already in effect, is absolutely baffling. What is the purpose of having rules if the rules are not even available to stakeholders on whom they apply?“, says Asad Baig, Executive Director, Media Matters for Democracy.

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