Rs20b sought to boost cybersecurity, regulate social media

Govt mulls proposal to restrict operation of social media platforms

Shahbaz Rana May 22, 2024


The federal government has sought Rs20 billion for the next fiscal year to enhance the nation’s cybersecurity and regulate social media. The proposal includes allowing operations only for social media platforms that are willing to set up offices in the country.

The government sources told The Express Tribune that the Ministry of Information Technology has demanded Rs20 billion for the Digital Information Infrastructure Initiative (DIII) in the budget for fiscal year 2024-25. The demand was presented to the finance division as part of the next year’s allocation for the current expenditures, they added.

Neither the Ministry of Finance nor the Ministry of Information Technology responded to The Express Tribune request for comments. However, senior officials from the ministries confirmed that a demand has been raised for Rs20 billion funds for the DIII project.

The information technology ministry has already been given Rs15 billion during the current fiscal year as technical supplementary grant. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance in February this year, the Economic Coordination Committee approved a proposal of the Ministry of Information Technology regarding “allocation of Rs10 billion through [a] technical supplementary grant during the current fiscal year for the Digital Information Infrastructure Initiative”.

The sources said that the total cost of the digital initiative project, which will have Chinese technology, is around $135 million or Rs38 billion. A significant chunk is being spent this year while the remaining amount has been demanded for the next fiscal year.

The finance ministry had described the purpose of giving the funds to the DIII as “providing requisite technical capabilities to proactively identify potential cyber threats on the national critical information infrastructure, in addition to preventing cybersecurity breaches”.

For the current fiscal year, the Ministry of Information Technology’s regular budget was nearly Rs10 billion. However, it has already received a supplementary grant, which is more than 150% of its original budget.

The newly adopted technology would also be used to regulate the social media aimed at stopping ‘misuse’ of different social media platforms and curbing the unfounded malicious campaigns.

The government has already banned X, formerly Twitter, in Pakistan. But the prime minister, federal ministers, ministries and people at large are using the service through proxies. There have been apprehensions that the ban can be extended to other platforms as well.

There has been a growing focus on regulating the unregulated social media, particularly to curb its use in spreading hatred against various individuals, political parties and state institutions.

The sources said that a plan was under consideration to allow only those social media platforms to operate in Pakistan that would have their physical presence through their country offices. The social media platforms that have representation in Pakistan have responded to the government more proactively as compared to those that do not have a considerable presence.

The sources said that new regulations are being fine-tuned to regulate the social media and a legislation may also be passed to give it a legal cover.

The government has already proposed amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act (Peca) 2016 and constituted a committee after the federal cabinet did not approve the amendments.

The committee will review Peca and develop a political consensus on the proposed amendments in the act by holding consultations with all stakeholders.

The committee is led by Adviser to Prime Minister on Political Affairs Rana Sanaullah and comprises Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, Information and Broadcasting Minister Attaullah Tarar, Education Minister Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Minister of State for Information Technology Shaza Fatima Khawaja, Senator Sherry Rehman, Nawabzada Khalid Magsi and Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan.

The developments are taking place at a time when the Punjab government has pitched itself against the media by getting approved a highly controversial “Punjab Defamation Bill-2024” from the provincial assembly.

Over 80 civil society organisations and journalists have signed a plea to reject the bill. The journalist bodies have described the Punjab Defamation Bill (2024) as a gross infringement upon the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and press freedom. The bill has been declared as a draconian and regressive tool to suppress dissent and criticism, particularly targeting journalists and the wider public.

The bill’s provisions, such as allowing defamation actions to be initiated without proof of actual damage and imposing extortionate fines, amount to nothing less than legal intimidation tactics. By replacing district courts with tribunals, the bill opens the door for undue interference, according to the journalist bodies.


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