The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising global digital media giants have a unanimous stance decrying the government’s newly-introduced social media rules, and threatned to suspend services if the laws were not amended.
In a scathing letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the AIC — which includes Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Amazon, Airbnb, Line, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, among others — said it was difficult for them to operate when such rules were in place.
“The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses,” read the letter, referring to the Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm).
The new set of regulations makes it compulsory for social media companies to open offices in Islamabad, build data servers to store information, and take down content upon identification by authorities. Failure to comply with the authorities in Pakistan will result in heavy fines and possible termination of services.
The AIC questioned the way the rules were approved by the government, stating that it had not taken the stakeholders into confidence before introducing the regulations.
It added that the regulations were causing “international companies to re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, and their willingness to operate in the country”.
Referring to the rules as “vague and arbitrary in nature”, the AIC said it was forcing them to go against established norms of user privacy and freedom of expression.
The group further noted that it was not against regulation of content on social media but was concerned about the Internet freedom.
‘The government is reconsidering plan’
“We are not against regulation of social media, and we acknowledge that Pakistan already has an extensive legislative framework governing online content. However, these Rules fail to address crucial issues such as internationally recognized rights to individual expression and privacy,” read a line from the letter.
The coalition urged the government to think about the “potential consequences of the Rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy”.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said Tuesday the bill was not final and that meetings were being held to revise it.