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ISLAMABAD: The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has warned that the new rules introduced to regulate social media activity will make it “extremely difficult” to operate in Pakistan and unless revoked, they will cripple the growth of Pakistan’s digital economy.
Dated February 15, the letter was written by AIC Managing Director Jeff Paine and was also copied to Law Minister Farogh Naseem, Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman retired Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa.
It was penned down in response to The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020 which include a number of regulatory rules which require social media companies to provide any data or information to a designated investigation agency, when sought. In case of failure to abide by the rule, the company will be slammed with a fine of Rs. 500 million.
The letter remarked, “AIC members recognize Pakistan’s strong potential, but the sudden announcement of these rules belies the government of Pakistan’s claims that it is open for business and investment. In fact, the rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.”
The members of AIC include Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Grab, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, and Yahoo (Oath).
The letter further read that announcement of such rules may negatively affect Pakistani internet users and digital companies operating in the country, which will eventually harm the country’s digital economy.
It also added that since the government had approved these rules without prior consultation to stakeholders, it may cause international companies to reconsider their operation in the country.
“Therefore, we strongly urge the government of Pakistan to initiate a proper public consultation to ensure wider participation to develop a new set of rules,” the AIC stressed in the letter.
The AIC also clarified that it was not against social media regulation, and that the country already had an extensive framework for such regulations. However, it emphasized that the government should reconsider the rules and ensure that they do not harm freedom of expression and privacy.