The Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications has directed the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and the National Database & Registration Authority to devise a plan of action to prevent the illegal issuance of mobile SIMs.

The committee met with MNA Ali Khan Jadoon in the chair, and expressed its concerns about the indifference of both the departments and their non-compliance with its directions after a lapse of considerable time.

It was apprised that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) had introduced stringent measures to check the illegal issuance of SIMs, and problems have been reduced considerably. The representative of the PTA stated that it had also taken punitive action against the mobile operators whose sales centers or franchises had been found to be involved in the issuance of SIMs without the fulfillment of mandatory requirements and verification.

The committee was not satisfied with this reply and directed the PTA and National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) to present a plan of action within 15 days.

It decided to invite the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to its next meeting to discuss issues related to cybercrimes. It had observed that the FIA has been lagging behind in curbing cybercrimes due to its capacity issues.

The committee also decided to call the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to attend its next meeting in order to discuss the Media Development Authority Ordinance. Some committee members voiced their concerns about the ordinance and termed it as ‘an attempt to contain the growth of social media’.

While discussing the Calling Attention Notice, the committee moved MNA Chaudhry Faqir Muhammad regarding the PTA’s failure to curb pornography, blasphemous content, and hate speech on social media. The mover contended that the PTA has not been able to prevent the dissemination of content that has destroyed the fabric of society and had created intolerance within it.

The representative of the PTA affirmed that it has taken stringent measures to block such content but action on it cannot be taken because of technological constraints and the limitations of the content hosted by offshore websites. He said that the PTA is in constant touch with all the social media platforms, and actions have been taken from time to time. He added that action has been initiated against violators under cybercrime laws.

When asked if some pornographic websites are running while anti-religious content is coming in, and what is being done to stop it, a member of the PTA, namely Khawar Khokhar, told the committee that the PTA blocks such content under the PECA law and the FIA is investigating it.

“We have given access to 38 agencies for registering [of] complain[ts] and we will remove the content. All pornographic sites in Pakistan are closed” he said.

Khokhar added that related sites from ‘outside’ are being shut on the PTA’s complaints, and all the objectionable content is on platforms that are not in Pakistan.

“We can not block a site outside Pakistan,” he clarified and added that YouTube is a secure site, and the PTA does not have the ability to block a link on YouTube, but can shut it down.

“We send our complaint to YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook, and they remove it again but they do not have to comply with it. We are talking with YouTube and Twitter and Facebook to keep their representatives in Pakistan. If their representative is in Pakistan, it will be easier to implement it,” he explained.

The federal Secretary of Information Technology and Telecommunication (IT&T) told the committee that social media rules have been made, a committee has been set up to review them, the rules are being revised, and they have been sent to the Law Division.

The Chairman of the Standing Committee directed the Ministry of IT&T to submit a report on the blocking of blasphemous and obscene material every three months.

The committee postponed the discussion on The Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) (Amendment) Bill, 2020, and The Electronic Transactions (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that were moved by MNA Amjid Ali Khan to its next meeting.

The meeting was attended by MNAs Sahibzada Sibghatullah, Sher Ali Arbab, Makhdoom Zain Hussain Qureshi, Muhammad Abdul Ghafar Wattoo, Muhammad Aslam Khan, Nusrat Wahid, Muhammad Hashim, Ali Gohar Khan, Romina Khurshid Alam, Maiza Hameed, Shamim Ara Panhwar, Mahesh Kumar Malani, Naz Baloch, Syed Mehmood Shah, Mover Choudhary Faqir Ahmad; the Secretary of the Ministry of IT&T; and other officers from concerned departments.