Updated at 5:39 a.m. CST, Friday, November 20, 2020
ISLAMABAD (AP) – Internet and tech companies have threatened to leave Pakistan after the government granted authorities general powers to censor digital content, a move that critics said was aimed at restricting free speech in the conservative Islamic nation.
Thursday’s warning from the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents global tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter, comes after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government on Wednesday granted enhanced powers to government media regulators.
The coalition said it was “alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet companies, as well as the government’s opaque process by which these rules were crafted.”
Under the new regulations, social media companies or Internet service providers can face a fine of up to $ 3.14 million for failing to curb the sharing of content deemed defamatory of Islam, promoting terrorism, hate speech, pornography or any content considered to endanger national security.
Social media companies are required to provide Pakistan’s designated investigative agency with “all information or data in a decrypted, readable and understandable format,” according to Pakistani newspaper DAWN. Pakistan also wants social media companies to have their offices in the country.
The coalition said that “the draconian data localization requirements will hamper people’s ability to access a free and open internet and close Pakistan’s digital economy to the rest of the world.” She said the new rules will make it difficult for its members “to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses. “
There was no immediate comment from the Khan government, which has repeatedly stated that it is not against free speech.
Khan’s office previously said the new rules were established after observing a late response to the removal of anti-Pakistani, obscene and sectarian content from social media sites since 2018, when Khan’s government came to power. .
Under the new regulations, social media companies are required to remove or block any illegal content from their websites within 24 hours of being reported by Pakistani authorities.
The latest development comes weeks after the Khan government temporarily banned the video-sharing platform TikTok, saying it took the plunge after receiving complaints of “immoral and indecent” content.
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