December 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Content Regulation in the Digital Age – DRF’s Submission to the Human Rights Council Report 2018
On December 20th, 2017, Digital Rights Foundation submitted its response to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, for the upcoming study, “Content Regulation in the Digital Age” as part of the June 2018 Human Rights Council Report.
This submission is a precursor to DRF’s future plans to investigate the role of the private sector in regulating Pakistan’s online spaces, and sets the background for further advocacy revolving around online content regulation in Pakistan, while observing how this largely falls under the ambit of the government. Private sector regulation of online content is at present a by-product of the state regulatory regime.
DRF’s submission details the laws and regulations established by the Pakistani government, which must be followed by ISPs and private companies. As with other nations of the Global South, the current political climate informs internet policy-making in Pakistan, with security concerns superseding fundamental human rights, in particular the rights of the general internet user and citizen. This is a situation that is exacerbated by the lack of substantial collaborations, if any, between the private sector, civil society and other relevant stakeholders, and the government.
What we are calling for through this submission, therefore, is a re-evaluation of the approach towards online content regulation by policy-makers in Pakistan, in order to uphold the right to freedom of expression -- as per the international human rights framework -- and ensure increased transparency and accountability on and for online platforms in Pakistan.
DRF examined the legislative framework that guides and underpins content regulation in Pakistan, and the problems associated with it, as can be encapsulated by the visible increase in internet censorship, takedowns and content filtration in Pakistan, as well as the prohibition of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and encryption mechanisms. The submission further discusses the existing processes developed by companies, both overseas and locally, to ensure adherence to Pakistan’s current content regulation regime, including the role of telecommunications companies operating within the country.
What our findings demonstrate is that in recent years the Government of Pakistan has established a strict regulatory regime for online spaces under the auspices of an overarching and all-encompassing security narrative, with various state institutions intervening on special occasions and particular topics. Conditions set under Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan have been interpreted broadly to enact vague criminal laws with draconian penalties, with those overly broad interpretations seeping into the government’s approach to online spaces as well.
DRF’s submission can be found here, and we hope that other stakeholders will benefit from it as well.
Written by Zoya Rehman, Jannat Ali Kalyar and Adnan Ahmad Chaudhri