Rs 500 million fine if companies fail to block ‘content’


ISLAMABAD: Social media companies could face a fine of up to Rs 500 million if they fail to comply with instructions from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) to block online content.

The Federal Cabinet has already approved the “Rules for Removing and Blocking Illegal Online Content (Procedures, Monitoring and Safeguarding) 2021” and now the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications will issue a regulatory decree (SRO) to put implement new rules after getting approved minutes. of the cabinet in the coming days.

Now the new rules, once implemented, would have binding effects on social media companies. Any person or organization has the right to express and distribute any content online in accordance with article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973.

The Authority receives complaints about online content. A complaint for blocking or deletion of online content may be filed by: (i) any person, or their guardian, when that person is a minor, harmed by the online content; or (ii) a government ministry, division, attached department, subordinate office, provincial or local department or office, government law enforcement or intelligence agency, or government owned or controlled company .

In the event that a service provider or a social media company, as the case may be, does not remove or block access to online content or does not comply with the instructions issued by the Authority under paragraph ( 2) within the specified time, the Authority may take action in accordance with the following procedure: (i) serve a written notice requesting the service provider, social media company or major social media company to remedy the contravention and to provide a written explanation within 48 hours to the satisfaction of the Authority in the event of non-compliance with the directives of the Authority;

(ii) where the service provider, social media company or a major social media company does not respond to the notice or satisfy the Authority with respect to the alleged contravention referred to in the sub-regulation, (i ), the Authority may, after having granted the opportunity to be heard and, by written order, to take one of the following measures: (a) downgrade the services of this service provider or social media company or a significant social media company for a period deemed appropriate by the Authority; or (b) block or issue instructions for blocking the entire online information system or (c) impose a penalty of up to Rs 500 million.

Provided further that notwithstanding anything contained under clause (ii) of subsection (7), the Authority shall block the online information system in accordance with the instructions of the court or the written instructions of the federal government or the Ministry of the Interior, as a case may be, issued under any other law currently in force.

The service provider, social media company and major social media company must not knowingly host, display, upload, post, transmit, update or share any content online in violation of local laws.

Provided that the following actions by a service provider, social media company and major social media company do not constitute hosting, posting, editing or storing the information as specified in sub-rule (3): (a) temporary or transient or intermediate storage of information automatically in the online information system as an essential feature of this online information system, not involving any exercise of human editorial control, for subsequent transmission or communication to another information system; or (b) removal of access to any information, data or communication link by a service provider and a social media company after such information, data, communication link by a service provider, a social media company and a significant social media company after information, data, communication link comes to the actual knowledge of the social media company in accordance with any order or directive in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

The service provider and the social media company must provide the investigative agency designated or established under section 29 of the law with any information or data or content or sub-content contained in any information system online owned or managed or managed by the respective service provider or social media company, in a decrypted, readable and understandable format or in plain version in accordance with the provisions of the law.

The service provider and the social media company should deploy mechanisms to ensure the immediate blocking of live streaming via online information systems in Pakistan of any online content, in particular, related to terrorism, speeches by hatred, pornography, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security when receiving notice from the Authority.

A major social media company must: (a) register with the Authority, within three months of the entry into force of these rules; (b) establish an office in Pakistan on the instructions of the Authority with a physical address preferably located in Islamabad; (c) appoint an authorized compliance officer, based in Pakistan, to ensure compliance with the provisions of the law, these rules and the guidelines of the Authority, within three months of the entry into force of these rules; (d) appoint a dedicated Pakistan-based Grievance Officer for redress of grievances received by him against the Online Content, within three months of the entry into force of these Rules. The grievance officer must resolve complaints as soon as possible, but no later than seven days after receiving the complaint.

The significant social media company will publish on its online information systems the contact details as well as the mechanism by which the User or any complainant who suffers as a result of accessing or using the Online Information System can notify its complaints; (e) respect the privacy of user data and the location of data in accordance with applicable laws and (f) deploy appropriate content moderation methods, including content moderation systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) and content moderators familiar with local laws.

The new rules relaxed the previous condition of establishing an office in Pakistan within six months of the entry into force of the rules and stated that, on the direction of the Authority, establish an office in Pakistan, to the extent possible .

The rules will provide, among other things, safeguards, processes and mechanisms for the exercise of powers by the Authority under the law to remove or block access to illegal online content through any information system.

The rules provided that the authority would not restrict, disrupt the flow or disseminate any content online unless it deemed it necessary for the reasons prescribed in section 37 (1) of the law, subject to ‘due process.

Provided further that, without prejudice to the generality of powers under section 37 (1) of the law, the removal or blocking of access to online content would be considered necessary in the interests of ( i) the glory of Islam, (ii) the security of Pakistan, (iii) public order, (iv) decency and morality, and (v) the integrity or defense of Pakistan.

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