Google, Facebook, and Twitter have taken a stand for free speech online, threatening to pull their services from Pakistan following the government’s introduction of sweeping online censorship rules.
The New York Times reports that following the announcement of the Pakistani government’s sweeping new internet censorship rules, it was expected that major tech firms would comply with the regulations or face severe penalties, but it seems the big tech Masters of the Universe are pushing back.
Via a group called the Asia Internet Collective, the tech giants sent a scathing letter to Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, in which the companies state that “the rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.”
Surprisingly, the letter seems to have had an effect with Pakistani officials promising to review the regulations and undertake an “extensive and broad-based consultation process with all relevant segments of civil society and technology companies.”
Usama Khilji, director of Bolo Bhi, an internet rights organization based in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, stated: “Because Pakistan does not have any law of data protection, international internet firms are reluctant to comply with the rules.”
Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School who founded the Center for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi, believes that tech firms uniting against authoritarian governments: “If it was just Google threatening this or Facebook threatening this, Pakistan might say go ahead,” said Ms. Arun. “It’s more risky for the Pakistani government to have all of these services withdraw together.”
Pakistani officials have denied that the new regulations are an attempt to crack down on free speech. Firdous Ashiq Awan, the adviser to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, stated that the regulations were designed to protect the social, cultural and religious values of the country.
Awan added that “under the new laws, action could be taken against those who speak against national institutions and sovereignty” which according to the NYT is “a veiled reference to the military.” President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Shahzada Zulfiqar, urged the government to scrap the regulations.
“The new laws will not only cause deterioration of a digital economic future for Pakistan but also decrease freedom of expression, increase censorship and diminish digital rights,” he said.
Read more at the New York Times here.