The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday decided to evaluate whether the recently notified new social media rules by the government were constitutional.
The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication recently notified amended social media rules with Federal Minister for Information and Technology Aminul Haque, in a statement, saying that all social media companies would have to abide by Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users..
The rules titled the 'Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021', have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016.
The IHC has been hearing multiple petitions against social media rules, and decided to review the new rules according to the international standards with the help of experts.
The court also appointed Sadaf Baig, Nighat Dad, Fareiha Aziz, Rafi Baloch, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) as consultants. They have been asked to share their views with the court on whether social media rules fulfill international practices.
During the hearing, the court also questioned the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's (PTA) lawyer over the banning of the social media app, TikTok.
“This court was not satisfied with the why it was banned. Thank you for complying with the law,” IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah told PTA’s lawyer. “The world has come a long way, and banning does not solve the problem,” he added.
Earlier, IT Minister Haque, in a statement, said that all social media companies would have to abide by Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users.
"Under the amended rules, Pakistani users will have the full right to freedom of expression under Article 19 [of the Constitution]," he said.
Under the new rules, there would be a ban on the live streaming of terrorist, hateful, obscene, and violent content, and "social media companies will be liable to remove content against Pakistan's honour and well-being".
Moreover, spreading "immoral and obscene content" will also be a punishable offense.
The rules also ask social media organisations and service providers to develop community guidelines that could inform users about uploading content.
The rules also direct social media companies to establish an office in Pakistan.
As per the new rules, the PTA can start proceedings against any service provider or a social media company that fails to remove or block access to content or comply with PTA's directions within a specified timeframe.
He further said the social media rules do not mean to create issues for social media companies but the basic objective was to make ourselves aligned with the best international laws and forms regulations for social media platforms that nobody’s rights are being affected.