Bolo Bhi hosts first multi-stakeholder internet policy-making dialogue

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ISLAMABAD: Bolo Bhi hosted a policy dialogue on internet policy-making in Pakistan at the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS) on Tuesday.

The event featured the launch of Bolo Bhi’s research paper on the internet policymaking landscape in Pakistan, that was published in collaboration with the Internet Policy Observatory and the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication. The report was authored by Usama Khilji and Saleha Zahid, research associate at Bolo Bhi.

Bolo Bhi Director Usama Khilji presented the key findings of the research report, which analysed patterns and attributes of internet policy making in Pakistan by tracing the history of the information technology (IT) and telecommunication industries, mapping the processes of IT related legislation and discussing the roles of the actors involved in these processes.

The event featured a panel discussion on the topic ‘Multi-stakeholder Internet Policymaking in Pakistan’, that was chaired by Usama Khilji. Among the panelists, Media Matters for Democracy Programme Director Sadaf Baig initiated the discussion by talking about how the policymaking environment was not conducive to a multi-stakeholder model due to dynamics that extended beyond laws, including use of politics of fear, that lead to exclusion as well as self-censorship.

ISPAK convener and Nayatel Chief Exexutive Officer Wahajus Siraj highlighted the need for formulating a specific policy related to internet governance, as well as, the need to involve the general internet user in policy formation.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak critically pointed out the lack of interaction between parliamentarians and civil society, an opinion that all the panelists seemed to share. Raza Zaidi, former director of Electronic Governance at the Ministry of IT expounded on strategies whereby the internet itself could be used as a medium to promote multi-stakeholder policymaking, for instance by holding online opinion polls.

A second panel discussion was also conducted on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, chaired by Bolo Bhi Co-founder Farieha Aziz. Panelist Taha Siddiqui expressed his negative experiences with the law as a journalist, and explained how it was regrettably used to silence dissent rather than to protect civilian rights.

Ministry of IT Member Legal Ameena Sohail defended the law by saying that Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were still being formulated. She expressed concern that the process was slowed down due to unavailability of legislators, as well as the fact that the ministry lacked capacity as law and order had not previously been its mandate.

Shumaila Hussain, lawyer from Bolo Bhi, also spoke on the occasion about the essential problems with the implementation of the law. She spoke about the weaknesses of the judicial system, the lack of awareness among adjudicators and the lack of forensic capacity and measures.

Agreeing on the issue, National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz emphasised the need for training of judges at the judicial academy. Zoya Rehman from the Digital Rights Foundation highlighted issues with the FIA that surfaced through the management of their cyber crime helpline. She spoke about the need for a rapid respond cell, improved accessibility, gender sensitisation and a case management and tracking system.

The event was attended by relevant stakeholders, including the Ministry of IT, legislators, IT experts, members of the academia, civil society and mediapersons. They held a detailed discussion on the future of IT policymaking and improving the transparency and inclusivity of legislative processes pertaining to the IT sector, to decrease the misuse of the cyber crime law.

Human rights activist I A Rehman discussed the ways in which the internet had demolished censorship in the way that it was traditionally conducted. Concluding remarks were given by member of National Assembly Malik Uzair Khan, who emphasised the need for parliamentarians and PIPS to support policy dialogue and debates related to the internet.