Google has registered in Pakistan under controversial 2021 social media rules
Google has registered itself with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).
After the news was reported in the media, several social media accounts wondered if the multinational company registered under the social media rules, which were rolled out last year, which the Islamabad High Court recently instructed the government to revisit.
That’s right, Google is registered under the social media rules of 2021.
On December 9, a social media user wrote that Google would register “according to Pakistan’s social media rules.”
While Nighat Dad, lawyer and digital rights activist, asked in a Twitter thread on what conditions Google agreed to open local offices while the rules are still controversial and the Islamabad High Court ordered the rules to be deliberated in Parliament must be
Amin ul Haque, Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunications, confirmed Geo Fact Check that on November 8, Google Asia Pacific Ltd registered with the SECP under the Removal and Blocking of Illegal Online Content (Procedure, Supervision and Precautions) Rules, 2021 issued by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.
“It is good news that Google has registered,” the minister said over the phone, “we hope they will also open an office in Pakistan.”
The 2021 rules require social media companies, which have more than 500,000 users, to also open an office in the federal capital.
But in May, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) referred the social media rules back to parliament for review to ensure freedom of expression.
The minister said that according to the court’s order, the Ministry of Law and Justice has set up a committee to take all stakeholders – national and international – on board before amending the rules.
“But the court did not prevent us from companies under [previous rules],” Haque added.
The minister further said that Pakistani authorities are also in touch with TikTok and Facebook to open offices in Islamabad.
Google in Pakistan: What does it mean for users?
For many digital rights activists, one concern is that under the rules, once a social media company is established locally, they will be required to provide Pakistan’s investigative agencies with any user information and data in “decrypted, readable and understandable format”.
Regarding this, the minister said that although they still have to sign an agreement with Google, they “haven’t until now [asked the company] for any [user] data to be shared.”
He further added that the government wanted all data to be secure.
“It [user data] must not be shared with anyone. If a social media company sets up an office in Pakistan, of course their data will also be in Pakistan,” he said, “All those things that are against the state or religion or culture or custom, we will definitely talk to them” for removal .
Google did not respond Geo fact checking several requests for comment on the terms of the agreement with Pakistan.
Geo Fact Check also reached out to Farieha Aziz, the co-founder of Bolo Bhi, which campaigns for digital rights in the country.
Aziz said the court’s directives were for the social media rules to be reviewed by parliament in 2021.
“However, no one has any knowledge of where this process is at the moment,” she said Geo Fact Check“How and why did Google register in accordance with controversial and under review rules? This is something Google needs to respond to.”
Aziz further added that for Google to register in Pakistan, in any capacity, “sets a bad precedent”, especially when there is little clarity on the status of the rules.
“In the interest of transparency, the registration terms should be very clear so that users can make an informed decision whether they want to stay with the platform or opt for someone else’s services in the interest of their privacy,” she explained.
Aziz also disagreed with the minister that user data will remain secure, adding that there is no data protection law in the country at the moment.
“All users should be rightly concerned about the security of their data and privacy,” she said, “unless the terms of registration and compliance are publicly known, the worst will be assumed.”
Follow us on @GeoFactCheck. If our readers spot any errors, we encourage them to contact us at [email protected]