IHC issues notices to IT ministry to justify new social media regulations

IHC issues notices to IT ministry to justify new social media regulations

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday issued notices to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) and other respondents to submit their response in a case questioning the legitimacy of new social media regulations i.e. the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020.

However, the court rejected the request to immediately suspend applicability of the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, and directed the respondents to present their answers in the miscellaneous application.

As the hearing resumed, the petitioner contended that the government aimed to curtail the freedom of expression by “controlling the social media”.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah responded, “Regulations are done all over the world.”

Advocate Jahangir Khan Jadoon pleaded with the court to ask the government about the status of the new rules being imposed on the social media in Pakistan.

The court was also informed that for the implementation of the new rules, a National Coordinator has been appointed, and has been granted more powers than required.

“The procedure of his (national coordinator’s) appointment and qualifications as requirement to fulfill the duties is still unknown,” Mr Jadoon maintained, adding that the social media rules were contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the court also directed to fix today’s application for hearing together with proceedings of another plea regarding the same case.

According to documents available with Dunya News, all companies including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Tick Tok, under the new set of rules, are required to register and establish an office in Islamabad within three months.

The global social media platforms and companies have been conditioned to appoint a focal person in Pakistan and are required to build a data server in Pakistan within a year.

Action(s) could be taken against those who speak out against national institutions and national sovereignty.

The government will appoint a National Coordinator (NC) within 15 days after the commencement of these rules, who will be responsible for coordination, advising the federal and provincial governments, and engaging with social media companies. He will also have the power to summon focal persons of any company to discuss how they operate their businesses.

The Ministry of Information and Telecommunications or the National Coordinator can ask any social media company to remove, suspend or disable access to such content within 24 hours. Urgent situations will require action within six hours.

According to the Rules, the “interpretation or permissibility of any online content, by the Authority or the National Coordinator under law, rule, regulation or instruction, shall take precedence over any community standards or rules or community guidelines or policies or any other instruments devised by a Social Media Company.”

The rules also state that Social Media Companies “shall remove, suspend or disable access to such accounts, online content of citizens of Pakistan residing outside its territorial boundaries and posts on online content that are involved in spreading of fake news or defamation.”

Companies will also be required to provide any requested information in a “decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version,” bypassing the legal process currently outlined in PECA.

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