Office of the Attorney-General for Pakistan said Tuesday the federal government had constituted a committee to review social media regulations it had introduced last year.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari would be the committee’s chairperson, with MNA Barrister Maleeka Bokhari, Senator Barrister Ali Zafar, secretary IT, and chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority as its members, the AGP office said in a statement.
The statement further said the committee would furnish its recommendations to Prime Minister Imran Khan within a month’s time — after consultations with the petitioner, Usama Khawar — who filed the case in the IHC — and relevant stakeholders.
The development comes after the federal government in January informed the Islamabad High Court that it would review the regulations in an ongoing case challenging their formation.
During the January IHC hearing, Justice Athar Minallah observed that Article 19 and 19-A of the Constitution are related to fundamental rights and that “it seems that the stakeholders were not consulted in formulating social media rules”.
However, petitioner Khawar interjected and told the court that they were invited earlier for consultations, but none of their recommendations was taken into account.
On that note, Justice Minallah said that the court had appointed a judicial assistant to provide his input in the case, observing that the Pakistan Bar Council and PFUJ were important stakeholders when it came to social media regulations.
Critics cry foul over rules to control social media
The federal government’s “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules, 2020” under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) invited strong criticism from internet service providers, digital rights activities, and tech giants alike when it was introduced.
Originally named the “Citizens’ Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020”, the rules were devised following a September 2019 IHC verdict berating the PTA for failing to frame relevant laws under Section 37 of the PECA law.
Owing to criticism from digital and human rights activists, civil society, journalists, and strong opposition from the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), the federal government had initially formed a consultative committee to take all stakeholders on board.
On November 2, 2020, the IHC had ordered PTA to issue the new rules within 90 days. The government notified the rules on November 18, with stakeholders saying they were completely bypassed as they were being finalised by the authorities.