The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has informed the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication that it has devised Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for lodging complaints against unlawful/objectionable online content.
Under Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (Peca), the PTA has been empowered to remove or block unlawful online content if it considers it necessary in the interest of defence of Pakistan, glory of Islam, contempt of court, decency and morality, defamation, child pornography, modesty of natural person, dignity of natural person, public order, hate speech, incitement to an offence etc.
The Senate panel with Senator Rubina Khalid in the chair was informed that according to the SOPs, an online portal is provided to stakeholder organisations to lodge complaints according to their domain/scope of work.
Senators Kulsoom Parveen, Taj Muhammad Afridi, Fida Muhammad, Faisal Javed, Muhammad Khalid Bizenjo, Mian Muhammad Ateeq Shaikh and senior officers from the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications, PTA, Punjab Police (Rawalpindi) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were in attendance.
The PTA officials apprised the committee that currently there are 34 stakeholders, including Inter-Services Intelligence, FIA, Intelligence Bureau, provincial home departments, provincial Counter Terrorism Departments, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior and others, using the portal.
“Any person can lodge a complaint against objectionable content on the internet,” they said, adding that in addition, the “complaints are received via CMS [Complaint Management System]”.
Any person, who is aggrieved due to presence of any content over the internet, could approach the PTA via fax, email or conventional email for removal of alleged content, they added.
“The complaints are analysed and processed,” the PTA officials said. “If the reported URL is hosted on an unsecured platform, it is blocked locally through local ISPs. If the URL is hosted on a secured platform then administration of the concerned website is requested to remove the unlawful content.”
The PTA officials apprised the committee that as far as blocking of applications is concerned, “it is submitted that the PTA has blocked only two applications – PUBG and BIGO – since the promulgation of Peca 2016.
PUBG was banned due to the complaints from public regarding its negative impact on physical and psychological health of the young individuals in addition to the reports of suicides associated with the game. BIGO was blocked due to complaints of indecent material present on the platform.
“Both the applications have been unblocked after assurance from the said platforms to respect local laws of Pakistan,” they added.
In addition to blocking unlawful content, the PTA has taken several steps in order to educate the general public about uploading or sharing any unlawful content on internet and social media. “There is a hearing of the case in court on Tuesday (today),” they said.
The committee was of the view that blocking websites and applications “is not the answer to curb immorality”. The senators stressed that regulations need to put in place to achieve this goal.
Regarding the follow-up on current status of child abuse for filming and uploading videos on dark web with reference to the case reported in Rawat, Rawalpindi, the committee was informed that on conducting digital forensic analysis it was revealed that three potential applications Tor, Duck-Duck GO and Super VPN were found but no activity or links leading to the dark web.
The committee was apprised that access to banned websites and purchase of drugs via email was found. “Medical tests of the three main victims show traces of drugs.”