The Pakistani government is making strides to impose itself on social media, creating a set of complicated guidelines that are easy for platforms to mismanage. The people of Pakistan fear that the proposed regulations will set social media platforms up for failure, ultimately leading to excessive censorship or the loss of the population’s ability to access social media without bypassing blocks.
The people aren’t happy and social media platforms can’t possibly be pleased either. These regulations have caused a tremendous amount of backlash, and the government doesn’t know how to best contend with the situation.
Citizens Protection Rules (Against Online Harm)
Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui, head of the Ministry of Information Technology, was responsible for drafting the new legislation. He describes it as being designed to “identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content” and claims it was necessary to “uphold the integrity, decency, and respect of individuals and sanctity of institutions”, which can mean a lot of things. In fact, it can mean far too many things.
The regulations place a heavy amount of responsibility on social media platforms. The new expectation is that they will constantly collaborate with Pakistani law enforcement agencies, providing access to whatever information they need and removing information at their behest. This requires a tremendous amount of manpower that social media platforms simply cannot provide – billions of users are constantly posting content, and there’s no way to manually approve content before it goes live.
The law places even more unrealistic expectations on social media companies, expecting them to comply with some requests within a maximum of six hours and mandating them to have some kind of physical presence in Pakistan. They will also be required to supply any and all requested information about an individual at the demand of the government, even if the platform considers that information to be private or sensitive.
Failure to comply with the new act can lead to a social media platform being completely blocked from the open internet in Pakistan. Since the regulations have essentially set these platforms up to fail, a complete social media block is an inevitable consequence.
The Consequences of Lax Wording
As if the consequences and requirements weren’t already heavy handed, more complications arise from the fact that the wording in the legislation is incredibly lax. Someone sharing a perfectly polite photo with a platitude that relates to their religion could be seen as offending religious institutions if their beliefs happen to be in the minority. Simply posting “I am unhappy with my government”, which is something perfectly legal to say in many countries, could be a serious offense.
This leaves social media companies with a serious predicament. They can’t possibly censor everything – they don’t have the time and the resources. With such unclear expectations about what might constitute illegal content, they couldn’t even begin to predictively filter posts. Because most of these social media platforms are based in the United States, blanket censoring isn’t an option. This culminates to create the perfect storm.
The People’s Reaction to the Rules
Global authorities and the people of Pakistan have all voiced strong objections to the new regulations. Pakistan’s constitution contains plenty of stipulations regarding free speech, and these internet restrictions seem to be directly at odds with the constitution. Those voicing their displeasure with the current state of affairs have a strong leg to stand on.
Among the loudest of voices is that of AIC, the Asia Internet Coalition. Facebook, Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Airbnb, and Apple are among the many giants that comprise AIC. AIC is working to create a compromise that would simplify their obligations and ability to continue to do business within Pakistan. As of yet, no social media platforms or internet giants have outright stated their desire to pull out of the country.
The Government is Being Pushed to Reconsider
It seems as though the new regulations created far more backlash and potential legal conflicts than the government had anticipated. Because of this, the government has opened itself up to “extensive consultations” with authorities and rights groups who have voiced opposition. If allowed to continue in its current form, this particular piece of legislation can damage both freedom and the economy within Pakistan.
In the event that blocks do transpire without resolution, internet users in Pakistan can browse without the prying eye of their government meddling in their business by using a stealth protocol VPN, like TorGuard. TorGuard is currently working in Pakistan and can successfully bypass any blocks or restrictions put in place by the Pakistani government.