Asia Internet Coalition State Possible Suspension Of Services In Pakistan To PTI Government

Asia Internet Coalition is an association including Facebook, Twitter, Google etc who issue threat to Pakistan Government based on new social media rules such as the Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm).

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) was established in 2010 as an industry association that promotes the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region. In 2019, their membership comprised of leading internet and technology companies, namely Amazon, AirBnb, Apple, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Facebook, Grab, Google, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, Twitter and Yahoo (Oath). The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) has recently announced new social media rules which was introduced by the Pakistan government.

The AIC has recently threatened to suspend services in Pakistan based on the laws of the government and until they are not revised. The AIC sent a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan where they expressed ‘sincere concern’ over the Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm) (“Rules”).  The AIC Members believe that these new rules will severely hamper the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy. The letter stated: “The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses”.

The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020 is a newly introduced law that requires all social media companies including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to register within three months and establish their offices in Islamabad. This law requires these social media platforms to create a data server in Pakistan within a year and block any account or prevent or remove any content that “violates or affects the religious, cultural, ethnic or national security sensitivities of Pakistan” and is “involved in spreading of fake news or defamation”.

The letter stresses that the: “The Rules demand that social media companies deviate from established human rights practices concerning user privacy and freedom of expression..We urge the Government of Pakistan to consider the potential consequences of the Rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy”.

Various personalities such as Alice Wells, US Diplomat for South Asia, said that the PTI government’s policies is problematic as : “new restrictions could be a setback to freedom of expression and development of the digital economy”. The AIC added to this by stating: “The new rules also contravene the legislative enactments under which the Government of Pakistan has framed them. Neither the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act, nor the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) envision the broad powers granted through these Rules. On the contrary, PECA grants safe harbour protection to intermediaries or social media platforms”.