Expressing serious concerns over the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology observed that if the social media companies were banned for not abiding the rules, it might result in international embarrassment, besides hampering digital media growth in the country. The committee met under the chairmanship of Ali Khan Jadoon here on Monday.
The committee was briefed by ministry officials regarding the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020. However expressing dissatisfaction over the briefing the parliamentary panel sought briefing from the Law Division on these rules.
Secretary Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (IT&T) and chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) briefed the committee on recently notified social media rules by the federal government regarding “The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020″ under sections of “The Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act, 1996″ and “The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016″.
The committee observed that even the US senate could not ban social media companies and if Pakistan banned these companies, the country would have to face embarrassment at international level.
The committee members also observed that these rules may hamper digital growth, besides there is a perception of controlling freedom of expression. The ministry officials rejected the notion, while saying that these rules are made only to ensure prevention of online content related to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence, and national security.
The members of the committee were told that a national coordinator for over viewing social media activities would be appointed by the federal IT ministry.
“Under the rules, the social media companies are bound to remove illegal material from their sites within 24 hours of the complaint,” the briefing said, adding that they would be further directed to open their offices in Islamabad and establish their data bank within the country.
IT Ministry official said that the cabinet had already approved social media rules on January 28. Asked as to why a national coordinator could not be appointed, the secretary IT cited the delay due to the absence of the federal minister owing to his resignation from the post, which is yet to be approved by the prime minister.
The committee was not satisfied by the briefing of the secretary Ministry of IT&T and the chairman PTA. While briefing, several questions were raised by the committee members about the Citizens Protection Rules, 2020. The members were of the view that said rules should be discussed in the National Assembly and then same should be referred to the Standing Committee on IT&T for its further deliberations/clarification.
The above mentioned rules should also be referred to the House after recommendations of the committee. The committee deferred the agenda and directed the Ministry of IT&T, Ministry of Law and Justice, the PTA, the NACTA, the NTC and the FIA to further brief the committee in detail in its next meeting.
The committee also deferred the agenda items regarding “Complete details on all the vacant positions (post wise) in the Ministry of IT&T and its attached departments; promotion/seniority due of the incumbents training programmes for fresh graduates subordinate organizations” and “As per government policy on the NFTP, discussion on the inclusion of short subsidies online courses (e-skills) as a possible training option for freelance programs” till its next meeting.
The meeting was attended by Sahibzada Sibgatullah, Ali Arbab, Zain Hussain, Abdul Ghafar Wattoo, Javairia Zafar, Kanwal Shauzab, Nusrat Wahid, Muhammad Hashim, Malik Sohail, Ali Gohar, Romina Khursheed Alam, Maiza Hameed, Shamim Ara Panhwar, Mahesh Kumar Malani, Naz Baloch, Ayesha Rajab Ali and Syed Mehmood Shah, MNAs. The meeting was also attended by senior officers of the Ministry of IT&T, the PTA, the NACTA, the NTC, and the FIA.