Govt notifies Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules
ISLAMABAD: The government has notified Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020 to ensure prevention of online content related to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence and national security.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication through a notification stated that in exercise of the powers conferred under Clause (c) of sub-section (2A) of Section 8, sub-section (1) of Section 54 and clause (ag) of sub-section (2) of Section 57 of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 (XVII of 1996) and the sections 35, 37, 48 and 51 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, (XL of 2016) the federal government is pleased to make the rules called the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, and would come into force with immediate effect.
The Minister in Charge of the Division concerned with Information Technology and Telecommunication will by notification, designate a national coordinator within 15 days of the commencement of these rules.
The national coordinator will be assisted by a committee comprising such stakeholders as notified by the minister.
The national coordinator will perform the functions, namely: coordinate efforts of stakeholders for performance of functions related to regulation of online systems; advise the federal or provincial governments, and issue instructions to departments, authorities and agencies, in accordance with requirements of national security in relation to management or regulation or functioning of social media companies.
The departments, authorities or agencies would act in compliance of the said instructions.
Such instructions may include actions related to blocking of unlawful online content, acquisition of data or information from social media companies, and other such matters; engage with the social media companies on behalf of the federal government; and direct concerned official representatives of any social media company to appear before it in person to discuss any aspect related to operation of online system.
Obligations on social media company with respect to blocking and removal of unlawful online content will include; a social media company will, upon being intimated about any online content by the authority, in writing or through email signed with electronic signature, which is in contravention of any provision of the Act, or any other law, rule, regulation for the time being in force or instruction of the national coordinator, will act within 24 hours to remove, suspend or disable access to such online content; provided that in case of emergency, the social media company will act within six hours to remove, suspend or disable access to such online content. For the purpose of this rule the national coordinator will be the sole authority in determining the situation of emergency.
The interpretation or permissibility of any online content, by the authority or the national coordinator under law, rule, regulation or instruction, will take precedence over any community standards or rules or community guidelines or policies or any other instruments devised by a social media company.
The notification says, a social media company will take due cognizance of the religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities of Pakistan.
A social media company will deploy proactive mechanisms to ensure prevention of live streaming through online systems in Pakistan of any content in violation of any law, rule, regulation for the time being in force or instruction of the national coordinator particularly regarding online content related to terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence and national security.
A social media company will;- (a) register with the authority, within three months of the coming into force of these rules; (b) establish a permanent registered office in Pakistan with a physical address located in Islamabad, within three months of the coming into force of these rules; (c) appoint in Pakistan, a focal person based in Pakistan for coordination with the national coordinator and the authority within three months of the date of coming into force of these rules; (d) establish one or more database servers in Pakistan by the social media company, within 12 months of the date of publication of these rules to record and store data and online content, within the territorial boundaries of Pakistan for citizen data privacy; (e) will remove, suspend or disable access to such account, online content of citizens of Pakistan residing outside its territorial boundaries and posts on online content that are involved in spreading of fake news or defamation and violates or affects the religious, cultural, ethnic, or national security sensitivities of Pakistan; (f) if communicated by the authority that an online content is false, put a note to that effect along with the online content.
The social media company will 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 information system owned or managed or run by the respective social media company, in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format or plain version in accordance with the provision of the aforesaid Act.
The information to be provided may include subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data.
Regarding blocking of online system it says, (1) In case a social media company fails to abide by the provision of these rules, the national coordinator may issue instructions for blocking of the entire online system, social media application or services or OTTA owned or managed or run by the said social media company.
The social media company shall have the right to file a representation within two weeks of the date of its blocking before a committee constituted by the federal government within 15 days of the commencement of these rules, and the committee after conducting hearing of the representation will take decision within three months on the submissions made in the representation.
In case a social media company fails to abide by any of these rules, the national coordinator may impose a penalty of up to Rs500 million on it.
A complaint for blocking or removal of unlawful online content may be filed by, (a) any person, natural or juristic, or his guardian, where such person is a minor, aggrieved by unlawful content; or (b) a ministry, division, attached department, sub-ordinate office, provincial or local department or office, a law enforcement agency or intelligence agency of the government, or a company owned or controlled by the government.
The complainant mentioned under clause (a) of sub-rule (1), may file a complaint against any unlawful online content to the authority in the form specified in the schedule: provided that where a complainant is unable to file a complaint through web-based system or by approaching an office of the authority, he may use any other appropriate means in writing to send his complaint to the authority, while making full disclosure of available information regarding the complaint and the complainant.
The authority may seek an expert opinion from any person including complainant organisation wherever it deems appropriate during processing of a complaint against unlawful online content.
The authority may seek any further information or clarification from the complainant when it deems necessary for an appropriate decision on the complaint.
Any person aggrieved by any order of the authority under these rules may file an application for review before the authority within 30 days from the date of passing of the order.
An appeal against the decision of the authority in review will lie before the high court within 30 days of the order of the authority in review.-TAHIR AMIN