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Big tech helpfully offers Pakistan new social-media-friendly content-blocking framework

After minister suggests current rules should be reviewed

The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) – big tech’s Asian lobby group – has written to Pakistani attorney general Khalid Jawed Khan with some helpful hints on good ways to frame a new content-blocking regime.

Khan said Pakistan plans to review its rules during a late January 2021 court hearing at which current laws, introduced in November 2020, were challenged by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

The nation’s current laws allow members of the public and government officers to complain about online content on grounds including copyright abuse, blasphemy, invasion of privacy, or impersonation. The legislation also defines content that “threatens the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan, or public order, or causes incitement to any offence under the Act” as worthy of a government ban.

In December 2020, the AIC criticised the law as unworkable and likely to deter foreign investment in Pakistan.

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Attorney-general Khan appears to have been sufficiently swayed by those arguments, and others, to conduct a review.

The AIC’s proposed changes to Pakistan’s regime seem friendly to the organisation’s members, which include e Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Expedia, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, Twitter, Yahoo!, and SAP.

At the top of the organisation’s wish-list is removal of fixed deadlines for content removal. The group argues that fixed times don’t allow for nuanced consideration of content, which could sometimes lead to unwarranted takedowns. Another argument suggests that technical considerations can make fixed takedown deadlines unreasonable.

Next comes a suggestion that enforcement should only focus on systemic failure by AIC members, and that members’ own transparency reports are the best benchmark for such failures.

The AIC also opposes data localization, a requirement to operate offices in Pakistan, and a requirement to monitor live streams.

One more pro-user objection says that a requirement to store user data without encryption, but not due to philosophical objections. Instead, the AIC worries that it’s not legal to do so in Pakistan, or practical given US laws governing American corporations.

Pakistan has blocked content for years, most often because it offends intertwined social and religious sensibilities, but content that criticises the government has also been cause for action. In 2020 the nation also blocked certain dating sites and TikTok, the latter for ineffective moderation of content.

Just how Pakistan plans to revise its blocking laws is not known. The Register expects the AIC’s wish-list won’t become its template, as religious and national security concerns will likely knock out its suggestions on takedown times, and on encryption. ®

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