Govt defends curbs on social media for sake of ‘national security’ | Pakistan Today

Govt defends curbs on social media for sake of ‘national security’

–Firdous says new rules will enable govt to identify ‘Pakistan’s opponents and stop extremists’

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan on Thursday defended the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 amid criticism from all quarters and said that the rules were “necessary to stop online propaganda”.

Speaking to reporters outside the Parliament House, she said, “There was no mechanism that protected our citizens’ interests [… or] our national integrity,” and added that with the implementation of these rules social media companies would be mindful of hurting Pakistan’s national interests.

The new policy was approved on Wednesday by the federal cabinet imposed strict conditions on digital media companies in a bid to regulate social media.

Social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, will have to register with the government within three months of the coming into force of the new rules, the document stated.

The PM’s aide claimed previously, the government “did not know who was creating fake pages and harming socio-cultural and religious values”, but now new rules would enable the government to identify “Pakistan’s opponents and stop extremists who spread hate on the basis of religion and race”.

She claimed that social media was spreading disorder in society by propagating pornography, sexual abuse, child abuse, hate speech and sectarian material. “[About] 73 per cent of Pakistanis are internet users. Social media users are increasing, especially among the youth. We will not take any step that is against the interests of these users,” she assured.

She said that because these companies have no offices or focal persons in Pakistan, whenever the government asked them to remove harmful material, the decision depended on the companies’ disposition. Under the new law, the companies would have to establish their offices in the country within three months which will bring them in the ambit of the Pakistani legal system, the premier’s aide explained.

The social media companies will also be required to share their databank with the government as per the law.

“The companies will have the right to challenge the authority’s decision if they think it will harm their interests,” Firdous said, adding that the forum for appeal will be the high courts.

Earlier, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry also denied perceptions that the new rules made to regulate social media content in the country were aimed at political control. The new rules were made to regulate advertisements and harmful content on social media, he claimed.