The US State Department on Tuesday expressed fears that social media restrictions in Pakistan “could be setback to freedom of expression & development of digital economy”, referring to a law greenlighted by the cabinet a few weeks ago that made it compulsory for social media companies to register and open offices in Pakistan.
“New restrictions on social media platforms in #Pakistan could be setback to freedom of expression & development of digital econ. Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors & stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion w/ stakeholders,” read a tweet from the US State Department.
The cabinet gave the green signal to the law that requires social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and others to build data servers in Pakistan, get registered and appoint a representative who will deal with a government-constituted authority in Pakistan.
Under the new law, social media companies will have to set up data servers in Pakistan within a year and will have to provide data of accounts found guilty of various crimes — including targeting state institutions, spreading fake news and hate speech, engaging in harassment, issuing statements that harm national security or uploading blasphemous content — to intelligence and law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
It will be the authority’s prerogative to identify objectionable content to the social media platforms to be taken down. In case of failure to comply within 15 days, it will have the power to suspend digital media companies’ services or impose a fine worth up to Rs500 million.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan had confirmed that an authority will be regulating social media companies, saying that it was not possible for the government to leave digital media companies completely unregulated.
“We cannot leave these websites completely unregulated,” she had said. “These laws have been made to facilitate social media.”
Proponents of Internet freedom worry that the legal document would be used to keep social media companies in check.