Tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have threatened to leave Pakistan after the country granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.
The global internet firms said they were “alarmed” by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet firms, as well as the government’s opaque process by which these new rules were developed.
The Imran Khan-led government had previously granted the PTA permission to remove and block digital content that poses “harms, intimidates, or excites disaffection” toward the government. It had also given a free hand to the PTA to block digital content which hurt the “integrity, security, and defence of Pakistan”.
Apart from Facebook, Google, and Twitter, tech firms like Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Airbnb, Grab, Rakuten, Booking.com, Line and Cloudflare are part of the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which released a statement against Pakistan’s new law.
“The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression,” AIC statement said.
“The Rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses. If Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm,” the statement added.
The new law imposed by Pakistan said tech firms may have to face a fine of up to $3.14 million if they fail to remove or block the unlawful content from their platforms within 24 hours of notice from Pakistan authorities.
Also, the new law makes it mandatory for tech firms to have their local offices in the country.
This is not the first time that Pakistan has come up with such a law. The tech firms have publicly expressed their concerns over the new law, which was proposed by the ruling dispensations in February 2020.
When the proposal was made by the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government in 2019, tech firms had then too threatened to leave. Following this, the administration promised extensive and broad-based consultations with civil society and tech companies.
AIC reiterated that the consultation by the Pakistan government with tech firms never happened. The group even claimed that it would be difficult for the tech firms to operate in Pakistan with the draconian law in place.
In comparison to India, Pakistan has about 75 million internet users. Despite India proposing several protectionist laws in recent years, firms have stuck to the country due to its market size.