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Social Media Rules 2021 Notified

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication on October 14 notified the new Social Media Rules titled the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021”.

The rules have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016.

The new rules were approved by the Federal Cabinet on September 28, 2021.

Under the Social Media Rules 2021;

  • The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has been allowed to block any website or platform on the directives of Court and the federal government or under any law.
  • The Social Media Companies will have to register with the PTA within three months, and establish their Offices in Pakistan “as and when feasible”.
  • The Service Provider, Social Media Company and Significant Social Media Company will not knowingly host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content in violation of local laws.
  • Not only the Social Media Companies but also the Service Providers are responsible to deploy, through Online Information Systems, mechanisms to ensure immediate blocking of livestreaming of content relating to terrorism, hate speech, pornography, and anti-national security matter on receiving intimation from the PTA.
  • The rules highlight that every person has the right to disseminate any online content under Article 19 of the Constitution but this does not allow violations related to “glory of Islam” if the content constitutes an offence under Chapter XV of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (Act XLV of 1860), the “security of Pakistan” as covered under Article 260 of the Constitution and “public order” if the matter constitutes an act that is an offence under Chapter XIV of the PPC, 1860.
  • The restrictions relate to any fake or false information that threatens public order, public health and public safety, or goes against “decency and morality” if the online content violates sections 292, 793, 294 and 509 of PPC, 1860 or “integrity or defence of Pakistan”.
  • The PTA is allowed to take cognisance of any online content and exercise its powers under Section 37(1) of PECA to remove or block such material.
  • The PTA can give 48 hours to the Service Provider, Social Media Company, Significant Social Media Company or User to comply with the directives of the PTA for removing or blocking access to the content.
  • In case of emergency, the PTA can direct the Service Provider, Social Media Company, Significant Social Media Company or User to remove or block access to an online content within 12 hours instead of 48 hours from the time of receiving the directives. However, the PTA will have to specify reasons for the “emergency” in writing.
  • The Social Media Outlets are required to appoint an authorised Compliance Officer and Grievance Officer based in Pakistan within the same timeframe; these Officers will have to address complaints within seven working days.
  • The Social Media Companies can be fined up to Rs 500 million for various violations.
  • At the same time, the PTA will not entertain any complaint that has been filed by an irrelevant person (who is not an aggrieved person) unless the complaint is filed by a guardian on behalf of a minor. Any anonymous or pseudonymous complaint, therefore, will not be taken up by the PTA.
  • The rules bar the PTA from taking up complaints for removal or blocking of online content if the complainant fails to furnish necessary information or supply relevant documents, or fails to attend hearings despite notices, etc.
  • Apart from any individual, the ministries, federal, provincial or local government departments, a law enforcement or intelligence agency of the government can file a complaint to the PTA over any social media content. The PTA will keep the identity of the complainant confidential.
  • The PTA has also been authorised to block or issue directives for blocking the entire online information system or impose a penalty of up to Rs 500 million.

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