Tech giants threaten to leave

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Regardless of whatever possessed the government to notify the rather harsh rules that define how social media will now be governed in Pakistan, the move will backfire very quickly and in ways that it will find hard to manage all at once. The “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020 have been framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA). And among many stipulations that it requires internet technology companies to abide by, which have shocked literally all industry stakeholders, there is also the usual bit about providing the government with any information or data that it might require in decrypted and readable format. If only the information technology ministry had done any homework at all before recommending all this to the government it would have realised that while some of the world’s biggest technology companies are usually willing to bend enough to accommodate certain demands from host countries, providing user data in any form is one red line that they will never cross.
Why on earth would they agree to something that would give Pakistan’s intelligence agencies all the juicy data they like about anybody in the country at the cost of a truly global run on their credibility and a drastic fall in their stock prices? That is why the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which has expressed surprise at the “opaque process” by which these rules were developed since nobody was consulted at all, has already stated in very clear terms that the new rules would make it “extremely difficult” to make their services available to Pakistani businesses and users. Hopefully someone among the prime minister’s many special advisors would know market speak well enough to tell him that “extremely difficult,” in this case, means simply impossible.
Now, there would still be some people in the government advocating that the it should stick to its guns, even at the cost of losing services of some foreign providers. And that would be perfectly legal in our parliamentary democracy model, since the government can do what it thinks is right in the five years that it is chosen for. But how would it reconcile all the damage that would be done to its own plans of digitising the economy and everything around it? You can’t make any progress at all in the new world if your own actions and policies shut out the most valuable tech companies. The government should reconsider its decision and spare the people and the economy a needless blow.