Social media companies may have to pay Rs500m fine for not following PTA’s instructions

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Social media companies may have to pay Rs500m fine for not following PTA's instructions
Social media companies may have to pay Rs500m fine for not following PTA's instructions
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If social media companies fail to comply with the instructions of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on blocking online content, they could face a penalty of up to Rs500 million, reports Geo.

Earlier this week, the federal cabinet approved amendments to social media rules, called ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Contents (Procedures, Oversight and Safeguard) Rules 2021’, introduced last year. 

Now the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication will be issuing a statutory regulatory order (SRO) to implement fresh rules after getting approved minutes of the cabinet in the next few days, The News reported Friday.

After implementation, the new rules will have binding effects on social media companies. “Every person or organisation shall have the right to express and disseminate any online content as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973,” the publication’s report read.

PTA will address complaints about online content. A complaint to block or remove online content may be filed by:

Any person, or their guardian, where such person is a minor, aggrieved by online content.

A ministry, division, attached department, sub-ordinate office, provincial or local department or office, law enforcement or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government.

If a company fails to comply in removing or blocking access to online content as per PTA’s directions, it can take action as per the following procedure:

Serve a written notice requiring the service provider, social media company or significant social media company to remedy the contravention and give a written explanation within 48 hours to the satisfaction of PTA for non-compliance with directions of the PTA.

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Where the social media company fails to respond to the notice or satisfy PTA in respect of the alleged contravention, it may, after affording an opportunity of hearing and by order in writing, take any of the following actions: (a) degrade the services of such a service provider for a period of time as deemed appropriate by it; or (b) block or issue directions for blocking of the entire online information system or (c) impose a penalty up to Rs500 million.

The publication reported that PTA will block online information system in compliance with the directions of the court or on the written directions of the federal government or Ministry of Interior, as the case may be, issued under any other law for the time being in force.

“The service provider, social media company, and significant social media company shall not knowingly host, display, upload, publish, transmit, update or share any online content in violation of the local laws,” it was added.

Provided that the following actions by a service provider, social media company, and significant social media company shall not amount to hosting, publishing, editing, or storing of any such information as specified in sub-rule (3): (a) temporary or transient or intermediary storage of Information automatically within the online information system as an essential feature of such online information system, involving no exercise of any human editorial control, for onward transmission or communication to another information system; or (b) removal of access to any information, data or communication link by a service provider and social media company after such information, data, communication link by a service provider, social media company and significant social media company after information, data, communication link comes to the actual knowledge of the social media company pursuant to any order or direction as per the provisions of the Act.

The service provider and the social media company shall provide to the investigation agency designated or established under section 29 of the Act, any information or data or content or sub-content contained in any online information system owned or managed or run by the respective service provider or social media company, in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

The service provider and the social media company shall deploy mechanisms to ensure immediate blocking of live streaming through online information systems in Pakistan of any Online Content particularly, related to terrorism, hate speech, pornographic, incitement to violence, and detrimental to national security on receiving intimation from the Authority.

A significant social media company, shall: (a) register itself with the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (b) establish an office in Pakistan upon the directions of the Authority with a physical address preferably located in Islamabad; (c) appoint an authorized compliance officer, based in Pakistan, for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Act, these Rules and directions of the Authority, within three months of coming into force of these rules; (d) appoint a dedicated grievance officer based in Pakistan for the redress of grievances received by him against online content, within three months of the coming into force of these rules. The grievance officer shall expeditiously redress the complaints but not later than seven days from receipt of the complaint.

The significant social media company shall publish on its online information systems the contact details as well as the mechanism by which User or any complainant who suffers as a result of access or usage of Online Information System can notify their complaints; (e) comply with the user data privacy and data localization in accordance with applicable laws and (f) deploy suitable content moderation methods including Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based content moderation system(s) and content moderators well versed with the local laws.

What do the new rules mean?

The new rules have relaxed the earlier condition of establishing an office in Pakistan within six months of the coming into force of rules and stated that upon the direction of the PTA, establish an office in Pakistan, as and when feasible.

The rules will provide for, among other matters, safeguards, processes, and mechanisms for the exercise of powers by the PTA under the Act for removal or blocking access to unlawful online content through any information system.

PTA, according to the rules, cannot restrict, disrupt the flow or disseminate any online content unless it considers it necessary for the reasons as prescribed in Section 37(1) of the Act subject to due process of law.

It may take action “without prejudice” only if removal or blocking access to online content can be considered necessary in the interest of:

Glory of Islam

Security of Pakistan

Public order

Decency and morality

Integrity or defence of Pakistan

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