Islamabad, 20 November 2020: The data localisation requirements in the recently notified Removal and Blocking of Online Content Rules, 2020 will “damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world” says Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an an industry coalition of technology companies. AIC holds that the “Rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses”.
The statement is referring to multiple obligations placed on Social Media companies in the Rules, asking them to open offices and appoint focal persons based in Pakistan and set up data servers in the country on the promulgation of data protection law.
Concerns with consultative process; expanding powers
The AIC has also expressed concerns at the expansion of PTA’s powers, saying that it is “chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression”.
The AIC has been urging the Pakistani government to initiate a ‘credible consultation process’ for formulation of practical rules for regulation of social media and holds that the “consultation promised in February (2020) never happened”.
Threat to digital economy
The statement warns that major technology may leave Pakistan if forced to operate under these conditions and says that “If Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.
AIC’s previous communique on the Rules, a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, published on 23rd October 2020, also warned of consequences for digital economy and stated that AIC members companies may “re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, as well as their willingness to operate in the country” if the Rules were implemented in the current form.
Local civil society members have expressed similar concerns about potential impact on digital economy.
“The AIC statement demonstrates one of our key concerns with these rules; they they are creating a regulatory environment which would push global technology companies out of Pakistan. The data localisation and other obligations being forced on the companies would actually force them to go against their own privacy and regulatory policies” says Asad Baig, a digital rights activist and Founder Media Matters for Democracy, “Not taking AIC’s concerns seriously would be highly ill advised. Ignoring their concerns can isolate Pakistan and prove to be detrimental for the country’s digital growth”.