Pakistan’s new social media rules have ‘alarmed’ the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), an industry association that promotes the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region. It comprises leading internet and technology companies such as Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo, among others.
AIC issued a statement on Thursday about the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020. As per the AIC statement, “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.”
Digital rights activists in Pakistan have also condemned the move.
In a world that is now all about technology, Pakistan should be embracing the digital spaces instead of alienating tech giants. Not only will it be a huge blow to everyone in Pakistan who uses the internet but it also means that leading tech companies will not consider investing in Pakistan.
During the corona pandemic, we saw how tech companies were successful and also made life easier for people during lockdown. It is thus baffling to see a government that always talks about Digital Pakistan and has actually used social media and digital media to its advantage now come up with rules that are draconian and not practical.
Such shortsighted moves could lead to consequences that we can ill afford. With a struggling economy, we should ideally be more open and welcoming to tech companies. Instead, these companies are now expressing alarm at the new rules.
If we just look at countries around us, including China and India, they have taken full advantage of the digital world. The US economy is helped immensely by technology companies. Pakistan’s new rules make it almost impossible for international tech companies to even consider opening their offices in the country.
In the past, the ban on Facebook and YouTube pushed Pakistan back digitally by several years according to digital rights experts. The new rules, if not improved, could have far-reaching consequences. While these companies have not given an inkling of their next move, what if they stop providing these services in Pakistan? We need to factor in that there can be such a possibility and how it will affect hundreds of thousands of users.
Why is it that we want to ban games or apps or even bring in new rules that take away fundamental freedoms when we are a democratic country and not an autocratic state. It is hoped that the government would rethink this strategy and make Pakistan a more open and tech-savvy country that is on par with the digital world.