Pakistan might have its biggest social media crises at hand as global internet companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and others have banded together and threatened to leave after the South Asian nation granted blanket powers to its Telecommunication Authority to censor digital content.
Earlier this week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan granted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority the power to remove and block digital content that pose “harms, intimidates or excites disaffection” toward the government.
Through a group called Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), the tech firms said they were “alarmed” by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet firms.” This group in addition to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, also represents Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, Airbnb, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Grab, Booking.com, Line, Cloudflare and Rakuten.
“The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access a 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,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.
“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”, AIC added.
This is not the first time these tech giants have publicly expressed their concerns over the new law, which was proposed by Khan’s ministry earlier this year.
After the Pakistani government made the proposal by February this year, the group had threatened to leave. This move made the nation retreat and promise an extensive and broad-based consultation process with civil society and tech companies.
However, according to the group, the government failed to follow through on its promise, and went ahead to pass the law anyway.
And like its neighboring nation, India, Pakistan now also requires these companies to have local offices in the country.
The new rules come as Pakistan has cracked down on what it considers to be inappropriate content on the internet in recent months. Earlier this year, it banned popular mobile game PUBG Mobile and last month it temporarily blocked TikTok over similar reasons.
India has also added several new rules but escaped any major protest from global tech companies because of its population. Pakistan has about 75 million internet users.
By contrast, India is the biggest market for Google and Facebook by users. A veteran entrepreneur, Kunal Shah said “Silicon Valley companies love to come to India because it’s an MAU (monthly active users) farm,”