United States pulls up Pakistan over the new social media restrictions

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Pakistan’s move to enforce new restrictions on social media platforms drew a sharp criticism from the United States which expressed deep concerns over the Pakistani action. The State Department said the move “could be a setback to freedom of expression & development of the digital economy.”

“New restrictions on social media platforms in #Pakistan could be a setback to freedom of expression & development of digital econ. Unfortunate if Pakistan discourages foreign investors & stifles domestic innovation in such a dynamic sector. Encourage discussion w/ stakeholders. AGW” read a tweet from the US State Department.

The statement from the US State Department came weeks after Pakistan approved new rules for regulating cyberspace which many claimed could be used to stifle dissent and free speech.

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The contentious regulations that were approved by the Pakistani cabinet last month but were not made immediately public mandate social media organisations to help law enforcement agencies access data and to remove online content deemed unlawful.

The regulations also stated that those companies who do not abide by the rules would run the risk of being blocked online.

According to the new rules, the social media behemoths such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and others are required to build data servers in Pakistan, get officially registered and assign a representative who will be a point of contact for the government-constituted authority in Pakistan.

The rules mandate social media giants to set up data servers in Pakistan within a year and be liable to provide data of users found guilty of various crimes which includes targeting state institutions, disseminating fake news and hate speech, involving in online harassment, making statements that imperil national security or publishing blasphemous matter — to intelligence and law enforcement agencies (LEAs).

The Pakistani government authority has the sanction to flag objectionable content on the social media platforms to be taken down. If social media companies fail to comply within 15 days, the authority will have the imprimatur to suspend digital media companies’ services or levy a fine worth up to PKR 500 million.

However, on the other hand, undeterred by US criticism, Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday responded back to the recent statement by American State Department representative Alice Wells over Pakistan’s social media regulation, saying Wells’ concerns were nonsensical.

Furthermore, Chaudhry further questioned why Well did not raise similar concerns when the United Kingdom and Singapore had enforced regulatory laws on social media websites.

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