Social media rules: Senate’s IT panel miffed at being kept in dark

Senator Rubina regrets committee was bypassed by sending social media rules directly to cabinet


Irshad Ansari February 26, 2020
A Reuters illustrative image

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology has sought clarification from the Ministry of Information Technology for forwarding the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 to the cabinet without taking the panel into confidence.

The government says the rules have been designed to protect citizens from online fraud and discourage social media companies from publishing prohibited content.

The move requires the online companies to register themselves within three months.

It also directs the social media organisations to establish their permanent offices in Islamabad and appoint a local Pakistani focal person there.

For the protection of data of Pakistanis, the social media companies will have to create a data server in Pakistan within a year.

As the Senate Standing Committee on IT met on Tuesday with Senator Rubina Khalid in chair, the committee chairperson regretted that the IT ministry had not taken the panel members onboard while designing the rules.

She said had the regulations been presented before the committee, its members would also have given their input on the matter.

She lamented that the parliamentary committee was bypassed by sending the rules directly to the cabinet.

It was observed that there was no mention to curb banking frauds and cybercrimes in the regulations.

Information Technology secretary negated the impression that the ministry tried to bypass the committee and said that a written reply on the matter would be submitted.

He said when parliament makes an act, it also gives the right to the ministry concerned for preparing the rules and the rules cannot be made in contravention with the act.

Senator Shahzad Waseem observed that legislation was done in parliament but there was no condition of presenting the rules before the standing committees.

However, he noted that the committees had the right to observe the rules to confirm that they were not against the law.

Senator Rubina reminded the ministry that clear instructions were given in the January 15 meeting that rules will be shared with the committee.

“The committee had taken the notice of sending the rules directly to the cabinet and also sought a report from the ministry,” she said.

The senator recalled that legislation was done in 2016 but the rules could not be formulated despite passage of four years.

Senator Faisal Javed pointed out that the main purpose of the rules was the protection of citizens’ rights.

He maintained in view of the popularity of social media, collective steps needed to be taken to discourage its negative use and educate people to use the platform in a positive manner.

“The prime minister has directed that the rules be formulated after detailed consultation with all the stakeholders,” he said.

He emphasized on apprising the youth with the pros and cons of the use of social media saying that that internet had adversely affected the norms and standards in the society.

He suggested that the IT ministry could run a campaign through Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) urging the people to not pay heed to fake news.

The standing committee directed to review the matter comprehensively and also sought input from its members in its next session on March 4.

The information technology secretary also informed the panel that the exports of IT sector had increased by 23% during the last six months.

Deliberating on the telecommunication companies, Senator Shahzad Waseem sought the details of mobile companies saying that according to reports, cancer was being spread due to the use of inferior quality cell phones.

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