Pakistan: Civil society groups demand transparency and consultation in the drafting of social media rules
In a statement signed by several civil society groups and concerned individuals, the Pakistan government is urged to initiate a credible consultative process in the drafting of social media rules since the measure could have a “detrimental impact” on the country’s digital ecosystem, economy, and online expression.
This statement was originally published on mediamatters.pk on 13 October 2020.
We, the undersigned, are concerned over the continued lack of transparency regarding the social media rules, originally Citizen Protection (Against Online Harms) Rules 2020 and recently retitled “Rules for removal and blocking of unlawful online content (procedure, oversight, and safeguards) Rules 2020”. The media has reported on the approval of the updated draft of rules from the Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC) and ratification from the Cabinet. It is concerning that the updated rules are being kept confidential and secret, despite constant demands and requests from civil society to make them public and brings into question the sincerity of the consultative process.
We would like to remind the cabinet and the government that drafting of rules that stand to have a detrimental impact on the digital ecosystem, economy, and online expression is not a task that should be rushed through without paying attention to the inputs of all involved stakeholders. We are concerned that there has been no consultation on the revised draft, despite the fact that there were serious questions and concerns with the manner in which the consultative process was carried out. The lack of transparency is not only alarming, it projects the intention of the government to disregard the concerns of individuals that have time and again been raised and communicated to government departments and officials.
We remind the government that giving access to a revised draft after any initial consultative process is a legitimate expectation and an international best practice. We stress upon the urgent need for a truly credible, transparent, and inclusive consultative process and remind the government that the previous round of consultations was boycotted by a number of civil society organizations due to similar concerns on refusal to DE notify the original rules before the process commenced.
It is also extremely alarming that there has been no formal and official response from the government on the letter by Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) that has expressed serious concerns over lack of meaningful consultation, sharing of the second draft before notification, and lack of response on requests for access. We fear that by not paying due attention to a body that comprises corporations that are fundamental to the progress of Pakistan’s economy, the government is actively endangering the nation’s progress and obstructing the growth potential of Pakistan as a digital market.
And given the unknown status of the first version of the Rules which should have been DE notified by the Cabinet, the lack of transparency and expression of secrecy in democratic processes is not only worrying, it points towards the authorities’ intentional attempt to bar any kind of discourse in the lawmaking process which, in every democracy, is supposed to be transparent and must follow a multi-stakeholder consultation framework before any document becomes a regulation in the country.
Hence, the undersigned groups and individuals express their unequivocal opposition to the Rules in this form and demand immediate de-notification of the Citizen Protection (Against Online Harms) Rules 2020 and initiation of a sincere, efficient, and representative consultative process.