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Pakistan govt approves new social media rules, opponents cry foul

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Government of Pakistan has approved new rules for regulating cyber space, which opponents say could be used to stifle dissent and free speech.

Under the regulations that were approved by the cabinet late last month but were not immediately made public, social media companies will be obliged to help law enforcement agencies access data and to remove online content deemed unlawful.

Companies that do not comply with the rules risk being blocked online, according to a copy of the regulations.

The approval of the new rules follows accusations by opposition parties that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has sought to intimidate and silence its opponents and allegations of media censorship.

Pakistan’s military has also faced accusations of cracking down on media and free speech.

But Shoaib Siddiqi, the top official at the ministry of information technology that authored the regulations, said the new rules would help “identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content.”

“We needed to do it to uphold the integrity, decency and respect of individuals and sanctity of institutions,” he said.

The new rules on social media are described by the authors as intended to prevent live streaming of online content relating to “terrorism, extremism, hate speech, defamation, fake news, incitement to violence and national security.”

Social media companies will be obliged within 24 hours to respond to a request to remove “unlawful” material, or six hours in emergency cases.

They will have three months to register with authorities in Pakistan, and must have a physical presence in Pakistan.

When required, the companies will be required to provide subscriber information, traffic data, content data and any other information or data that is sought, the regulations stipulate.

The rules also state that interpretations of the regulations by the authorities in Pakistan “shall take precedence over any community standards or rules or community guidelines or policies or any other instruments devised by a social media company.”

Edited By: Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide

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