Curbing the social media freedom


Lessons not learnt from history


PTI government has finally to bring up a law to regulate the social media platforms. It seems that PTI government is following the international trend to curb the online freedom.    The Federal cabinet has approved the law that will curb the social media freedoms. Even though- the stated aim of this new is to regulate the social media and to stop the spread of fake news but real motive behind this move is clearly to curb the dissent and criticism of the government. It’s not a good sign and will further weaken the democratic credentials of PTI government.
Economist intelligence Unit already declared Pakistan as hybrid regime. It means a regime neither fully democratic nor a dictatorship. It can go either way depending on the concrete situation.
PTI government is doing everything to please the establishment without realising that it will ultimately weaken the democratic forces and will strengthen the undemocratic forces. Nothing has been learnt from past experiences and history.
We know very well that PTI government is not happy with the social media. The mainstream media is already under pressure and facing censorship and restrictions under PTI government. PTI government has poor record as far as freedom of media and expression is concerned. The new law will make it more difficult to criticise the government and to bring out facts.

The new law will make it compulsory for social media giants like Facebook- You Tube –Tik Tok-Twitter and others to register with the new formed authority. They will have open offices in Pakistan within three months to continue their operations in the country.   
The government has amended the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and included new rules and regulations.  According to the law, all global social media platforms and companies will have to register in Pakistan within three months and open offices in Islamabad.
                                    
The law requires the companies and platforms providing social media services to appoint a representative in Pakistan who will deal with a National Coordination Authority. The authority will be responsible for regulating social media companies.
It requires social media companies to make data servers in Pakistan within one year. The law makes it compulsory for social media companies to provide data of accounts found guilty of targeting state institutions, spreading fake news and hate speech, causing harassment, issuing statements that harm national security or uploading blasphemous content, to intelligence and law enforcement agencies (LEAs).
This law gives legal power to authorities to take action against Pakistanis found guilty of targeting state institutions within Pakistan and abroad on social media. The law will also help LEAs get access to data of certain accounts found involved in suspicious activities.
It will be the authority's prerogative to identify objectionable content to the social media platforms for them to take down. In case the companies fail to act on directives within 15 days, the authority will have the power to suspend their services or impose a hefty fine of up to Rs 500 million.
Such powers to LEAs will be misused and opposition political parties and activists will be targeted as history shows us. This law seems repressive and undemocratic that will make dissent a crime. PTI will regret to introduce such a law when it will not be in power. PML-N introduces many repressive laws aimed at PPP. But after losing power PML-N itself was victim of such laws.  
The main purpose of this new law seems to be to control and regulate the digital media. The authorities already have greater control over mainstream media and especially over electronic media. The government now wants to control the digital media and social media platforms.
The new law will give more powers to authorities to access the data and accounts of Pakistani social media users. This law will further shrink the digital space for dissenting voices and political activists. It will further erode the freedom of expression and democratic rights.
This law is a blatant attempt to curb the free speech- freedom of expression and media. It is an attempt to control and manipulate the digital media.  
                                                The editor

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