Cabinet Approves Amendments to Cybercrime Act by Ordinance : Fawad – Pakistan

Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry confirmed AubeNewsTV on Saturday that the federal cabinet gave its approval to a presidential order to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 (PECA).

He said approval for the ordinance was obtained by circulation.

The minister said that under the amendments, defamation of individuals on social media would be declared a punishable offense and courts would be required to deliver verdicts on cases registered under the Peca within six months .

Chaudhry also shared this earlier in a tweet, saying federal cabinet approval had been sought for the amendments.

Peca was passed by the National Assembly in 2016 amid opposition protests.

The PML-N, then in government, used its majority to bulldoze the controversial bill. The opposition, meanwhile, criticized the legislation for giving the executive what it called sweeping powers that could be misused against anyone and further restrict free speech in the country.

The legislation stipulated that websites and social media accounts based on parody or satire could be prosecuted for “spoofing”, which makes it an offense to operate a website or send information with a “counterfeit source”. He also authorized Federal Investigation Agency officers to unlock any computer, mobile phone or other device that may be necessary for the purposes of investigating a crime or offence, and said defamation would be treated as an offence. punishable.

In November 2020, the Pakistani government Tehreek-i-Insaf drafted social media laws under Peca, drawing criticism from digital rights activists, Internet Service Providers of Pakistan and the Asia Internet Coalition, who had called the draconian laws.

The tech companies had also threatened to suspend their services in Pakistan if the rules were not changed, saying the regulations would make it difficult for them to continue their operations.

The rules were also challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC). At one of the hearings on the petition, the attorney general had assured IHC that the government was ready to review the rules.

In March 2021, Prime Minister Imran Khan set up an inter-ministerial committee to review controversial social media rules.

The committee had prepared the rules in August and they were adopted by the Cabinet Committee on Legislative Affairs on September 23.

The federal cabinet had approved the amendments to the digital media rules on September 29 and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications notified them on November 14.

The Removal and Blocking of Illegal Online Content (Procedure, Supervision and Safeguards) Rules of 2021 allowed the country’s telecommunications regulator to block any website or platform on court and federal government directives or under of any law.

In a statement released at the time, IT and Telecommunications Minister Aminul Haque said that under the rules, social media companies should abide by Pakistani laws and the rights of social media users.

He had said that there would be a ban on the live streaming of extremist, terrorist, hateful, obscene and violent content, and that “social media companies will be liable to remove content against the integrity and defense of Pakistan “.

Under the rules, spreading “immoral and obscene content” will also be a punishable offence, Haque had said.

“No negative content relating to an individual will be uploaded,” Haque had said, adding that uploading material about someone’s private life would also be prohibited.

Other things prohibited under the revised rules include “content contrary to the cultural and moral tendencies of Pakistan” as well as content that may “destroy” morals and harm the mental and physical development of children.

The minister had said the rules would apply to all social media, including Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Google. He added that after the notice was issued, social media companies would be required to set up their offices in Pakistan “as soon as possible”.

Social media companies have been urged to register with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) within three months of the law coming into effect and appoint a compliance officer and a grievance officer authorized based in Pakistan within the same period. These officers must deal with complaints within seven working days.

The rules also direct social media companies to establish an office in Pakistan, preferably located in Islamabad, as instructed by PTA “to the extent possible”. Previously, the rules required companies to set up their offices within nine months.

Internet companies had also criticized the amended version, noting that the most problematic provisions remained unchanged in the new draft which they said had in fact “regressed” from previous versions.

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