Pakistan rights groups boycott talks over govt\'s bid to snoop on social media users

Google, Twitter and Facebook have threatened to suspend their services over regulations approved by the government on February 11

Islamabad: More than 100 rights organisations and media groups in Pakistan have boycotted talks with the government over the new online censorship rules and demanded their withdrawal, a media report said on Monday.

Under the new set of rules, approved by the government on February 11, social media companies will have to disclose any information or data to a designated investigation agency, when sought. Failure to abide by any of the provisions will entail a fine of up to Rs 500 million.

This has prompted Google and popular social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, to threaten suspension of their services in the country due to the fresh regulations.

“While Cabinet approval for the rules remains in place, there can be no engagement or consultation. This only shows the government's intent to use the consultation as a smokescreen while intending to implement and enforce the rules already prepared and approved,” a statement signed by the rights groups said.

The government has refused to clarify the legal status of the rules without which “any consultation is merely a token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input,” it said, demanding withdrawal of the rules.

Facing flak over the rules, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced consultation with stakeholders over the Citizens Protection Rules 2020.

For the purpose, the Ministry of Information Technology formed a committee on February 29 headed by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa to undertake an extensive and broad-based consultation process with all relevant segments of the civil society and technology companies about the rules, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The rights organisations that boycotted the talks include Digital Rights Foundation, Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development, Pakistan Bar Council, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Press Foundation, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan and Freedom Network.

The groups also objected to the selection of members of the committee formed for consultation as not a single representative of civil society, industry and stakeholders has been nominated in it, the report said.

In a letter written to Prime Minister Khan on February 15, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) comprising Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and other tech giants urged the government to revise the new sets of rules and regulations for social media.

Next Story