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The Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2021 (“Rules”) have been enacted in furtherance of sections 37 and 51 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (“PECA”). Section 37 and 51 of the PECA provide that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (“PTA”) may promulgate rules for the blocking and regulating of online content on social media forums. The section further provides that such content shall be blocked ad removed when PTA considers the same to be violative of the glory and interest of Islam, defense, security and integrity of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement of an offence relating to data protection or cybercrime.
Definition of Social Media and Social Network Services
Section 1 of the Rules provide that the Rules apply to such licensees which provide Social Media or Social Network Services. The term licensees or existing licensees is however not defined within the Rules. It is assumed that the term existing licensees pertains to cellphone companies.
“Social Media or Social Network Services are defined within the Rules as meaning a website, application or mobile web application, platform or communication channel and any other such application and service that permits a person to become a registered user, establish an account, or create a public profile for the primary purpose of allowing the user to post and share user-generated content through such an account or profile or enables one or more users to generate content that can be viewed, posted and shared by other users of such platform but shall not include the licensees of PTA unless they specifically provide Social Media or Social Network Services.” The term licensees or existing licensees is however not defined within the Rules. It is assumed that the term existing licensees pertains to cellphone companies.
Details of what is unlawful content
Section 3 of the Rules is important since it describes in detail the instances of online content removal provided under section 37 of the PECA which can lead to blocking and removal of online content:
- Glory of Islam
The term Glory of Pakistan has been accorded the meanings as provided within chapter
XV of the Pakistan Penal Code which are as follows:
Whosoever by words spoken, written, visual representation, or by any imputation or inuendo directly or indirectly defiles the name of the the Holy Prophet (SAW), his family, the Caliphs of Islamabad and the Prophet (SAW)’s his companions. Who so ever disrespects any religious sect in Pakistan. Who so ever willfully damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran.
- Security of Pakistan
The term Security of Pakistan has been accorded the meaning provided within Article 260 the Constitution of Pakistan which is the safety, welfare, stability and integrity of Pakistan and each part of Pakistan.
- Public Order
If the Online Content constitutes an act which is an offence under the Chapter XIV of the Pakistan Penal Code then the same shall be blocked and removed. The offences under chapter XIV of the Pakistan Penal code range from the spread of infection or disease deliberately, public nuisance, sale of adulterated food and medicine to sake of obscene books. The term Online Content is defined within the Rules as an information on an Online Information System which in turn is defined as an Information System connected with other Information System through internet and any cloud-based content distribution services.
- Decency and Morality
If the Online Content constitutes an act which is an offence under sections 292, 293, 294 and 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Sections 292-294 pertain to sale of obscene books and objects and commission of obscene songs and acts in a public place. Section 509 pertains to insulting the modesty of a woman or causing sexual harassment.
- Integrity or Defense of Pakistan
If the Online Content constitutes an act which is an offence under Chapter VI of the Pakistan Penal Code. Offences under Chapter VI of the Pakistan Penal Code range from waging physical war against Pakistan, colluding to wage physical war against Pakistan, attempting to assassinate a head of state of Pakistan, whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Federal or Provincial Government established by law.
Further directives of PTA
- Section 7 of the Rules provides that the Serv trice Provider, Social Media Company, Significant Social Media Company shall make available Community Guidelines for access or usage of any Online Information System.
Community Guidelines have been defined as meaning any community guidelines, community standards, policies, rules and regulations, user agreements or any other instruments devised by a Social Media Company or a Service Provider. Social Service Provider, Social Media Company, Significant Social Media Company
- The section further provides that the Service Provider, Social Media Company or Significant Social Media Company shall not knowingly host, display, upload any online content in violations of the locals laws of Pakistan however the automatic storing of unlawful content which automatic storage is an essential feature of such Online Information system involving no exercise of human control for onward transmission to another information system or removal of any unlawful content when the same is brought to the notice of their notice by PTA shall not be considered to be uploading, hosting or publishing of unlawful content.
- When asked to do so the Service Provider, Social Media Company or Significant Social Media Company shall provide to an investigation agency any information, data or content or sub-content contained in any Online Information System in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version.
- The information sought by the investigation agency may include subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data.
- Service Provider, Social Media Company and Significant Social Media Company shall deploy mechanisms to ensure immediate blocking of live streaming through Online Information System in Pakistan of any Online Content particularly upon receiving intimation from PTA regarding content relating to terrorism, hate speech, pornography, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security.
- A Significant Social Media Company shall register itself with the PTA within 03 months of the promulgation of the Rules
- Appoint an authorized compliance officer, based in Pakistan, for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the PECA, the Rules within 03 months of the promulgation of the Rules.
- Appoint a grievance officer in Pakistan within 03 months of the promulgation of the Rules.
- Form an office in Pakistan if so required by PTA.
- Ensure data privacy and data localization.
- Deploy suitable content moderation methods including AI based content moderation systems.