Prime Minister Imran Khan has formed a committee to review the social media rules announced last year by the government, the office of the Attorney General of Pakistan said on Tuesday.
The committee will submit its recommendations to the government within 30 days.
“This is with reference to the consultations undertaken by the Attorney General for Pakistan with the petitioners, who had filed petitions in Islamabad High Court and some other parties who expressed interests in deliberations [over] social media rules namely the “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules, 2020," read a statement issued by the legal official’s office.
“[The attorney general's office has] recommended to the prime minister that further and broad-based consultations were required to frame comprehensive rules for [the] regulation of social media, that protect the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and right to information as envisaged under the Constitution,” it further stated.
“[t must also be ensured] that the platforms are not abused and [the] material is not disseminated in violation of laws.”
The notification read that the committee comprises Federal Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari as its chairperson.
Other members include Law and Justice Parliamentary Secretary Maleeka Bukhari, Senator Syed Ali Zafar, the information ministry and the telecom secretary.
The communique informed that the committee comprises Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari as chairperson and Parliamentary Secretary on Law & Justice Maleeka Bukhari, Senator Syed Ali Zafar, Ministry of Information Technology & Telecom Secretary as members and PTA Chairman as secretary/member.
"The information technology & telecom division shall function as the secretariat of the committee and the committee shall submit its report along with recommendations in the matter to the Prime Minister within a period of 30 days," it added.
The committee, the statement maintained, will commence its work and the secretariat would intimate the public at large of the date and venue for consultations with all stakeholders including petitioners who had filed petitions in the Islamabad High Court.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chairman as been appointed the secretary/member of the newly formed body.
The information technology ministry and the Telecom Division shall function as the secretariat of the committee.
“The committee shall submit its report along with its recommendations on the matter to the prime minister within a period of 30 days," it added.
The committee, the statement maintained, would commence its work.
“The secretariat would intimate the public at large of the date and venue for consultations with all stakeholders including petitioners who had filed petitions in the Islamabad High Court [IHC].”
In February this year, the IHC had given the federal government until April 2 to amend the new social media rules and directed AGP Khalid Javed Khan to submit a report in this regard at the next hearing of the case.
The new rules – framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) – placed all the internet service providers (ISPs) at par with social media companies and applied all the requirements of the social media platforms to the ISPs as well.
Under the new rules, a national coordinator was to be appointed to work with the stakeholders for regulating online systems.
It required the social media companies to immediately remove, suspend or disable access to any online content in contravention of PECA, or any other law, rule, regulation or instruction of the coordinator.
In January, the federal government had agreed to review the policy introduced in November last year amid protests by various stakeholders.
The move had drawn criticism from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) – including tech giants like Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and others.
At the last hearing of the case on January 26, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had noted that Article-19 (Freedom of Speech) and Article-19A (Right to Information) were related to human rights. “It seems that the government while framing the new rules did not consult with the relevant stakeholders,” he observed.
AGP Khalid had agreed that banning a social media platform was not a solution.