Internet and technology companies have threatened to leave Pakistan after the government grants the authorities the power to censor digital content. Critics say the move is aimed at reducing freedom of speech for the conservative Islamic State.

The Asia Internet Coalition, which represents global technology giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, issued a warning on Thursday after the government of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan granted increased powers to government media regulators on Wednesday.

The coalition stated that “it is warned by the scope of Pakistan’s new laws against internet companies and the government’s opaque procedures for setting these rules.”

According to the new regulations, social media companies or Internet service providers will fail to stop sharing content deemed to be defamatory of Islam, inciting terrorism, hate speech, pornography, or any content deemed to endanger national security.

Pakistan’s DAWN newspaper stated that social media companies must “provide any information or data in a decrypted, readable and understandable format” to the investigation agency designated by Pakistan. Pakistan also wants these social media companies to have offices in the country.

The alliance stated that “stringent data localization requirements will damage people’s ability to access the free and open Internet and isolate Pakistan’s digital economy from the rest of the world.” It stated that the new rules will make it difficult for its members to “distribute to Pakistani users. And companies provide their services.”

The Khan government did not immediately comment, and the latter repeatedly stated that it did not oppose freedom of speech.

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The Khan office previously stated that the new regulations were formulated after observing a delayed response to the removal of Pakistani, obscene and sectarian content on social media sites since the Khan government came to power in 2018.

According to the new regulations, social media companies must remove or block any illegal content from their websites within 24 hours of reporting by the Pakistani authorities.

The latest development was released a few weeks after the Khan government temporarily banned the video sharing platform TikTok. The company said it took a step forward after receiving complaints about “unethical and indecent” content.


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