10/22/2021

PTA Directs Twitter to Remove ‘Malicious’ Trends and Tweets Targeting Superior Judiciary

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) approached the top management of social media app Twitter to immediately block and remove “malicious” trends and tweets targeting the superior judiciary. In a statement issued April 12, the regulator said that such content was not categorized under freedom of expression.

“Twitter has particularly been informed that the presence of such content and trends does not come under the definition of freedom of expression and hence must be taken down instantly as ‘Contempt of Court’ is one of the categories that holds high priority for the Authority,” PTA said in the statement.

Twitter was also directed to “effectively and expeditiously” respond to PTA’s requests for removal of illegal and harmful content on its platform to avoid any legal action.

The regulator further said it would remain committed to support digital platforms if they remain compliant with the country’s laws. Despite this, the micro-blogging app is unlikely to comply with such a request or any warning of this kind, since the platform maintains that it abides by its own ethical standards and laws of the host country.

Additionally, PTA previously sent out a mass text to telecom customers in Pakistan, stating that uploading and sharing content on the internet/social media platforms against the superior judiciary or which invokes contempt of court is unlawful. The regulator directed recipients of the text to report all such links so that they could be blocked.

Notably, several courts have reprimanded the regulator for failing to implement laws that keep people from criticizing the judiciary.

Speaking on the topic, a senior PTA official said that international social media companies took excuse behind several reasons. The officer also remarked that the Removal and Blocking of Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules, 2020, also known as the Social Media Rules, were under litigation.

PTA has been amping up pressure on social media companies in the past few weeks. The regulator in late March sent a registration form to social media companies to appoint a local representative and provide a local address in Pakistan, as prescribed under Rule 9(5) of the Social Media Rules, notified in November 2020.

Under the Rules, those companies listed as service providers and social media companies with more than half a million subscribers in Pakistan are obligated to appoint a local representative and set up an office in Islamabad in order for the government to quickly establish contact with the companies as and when required to take down online content. Notably, however, demanding registration of social media companies with PTA goes beyond the powers vested on PTA under the section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, which is the parent Act of the Rules.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITT) in early April invited a few stakeholders to attend a consultation meeting on the Social Media Rules with Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari, scheduled on April 8 at the Ministry of Human Rights in Islamabad. The Committee chaired by Mazari was formed on orders of the Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 30 to hold broad-based consultations on the Rules on the suggestions of the Attorney General, who has been representing the government in Court under the matter. 

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