LHC takes up social media rules case tomorrow

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LAHORE: Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh will hear on Monday an application assailing the legitimacy of new social media regulations published by Ministry of Information, Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT).

“The regulations prima facie appear to be illegal and ultra vires for contravening and exceeding the scope of Pakistan Telecommunication Reorganization Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016 (Peca) and [in] violation of fundamental constitutional rights,” argued the application moved by digital rights activist Ms Jannat Ali. Through her counsel Usama Khawar Ghumman, the applicant pleaded that the Peca, the parent law, conferred limited powers to “remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to information through any information system.

She said the parent law did not give the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) the power to sub-delegate any of its powers, including the delegation of rules to National Coordinator – a person appointed by the federal government.

The applicant further contended that the federal government had very limited rule-making powers under the sections of the Peca and the PTA Act.

“Neither these sections confer powers upon the federal government to frame rules that can empower its delegated functionaries to frame rules having the effect of law, nor the power to delegate is to be read as a part of the power to frame rules,” she said, adding the constitutional courts of the country also did not allow such excessive delegation and already declared such practices to be an exercise in excessive delegation liable to be struck down.

She pleaded that the sub-statutory rules could not impose or create new restrictions beyond the scope of the parent law. However, she said, the impugned “Online Harm Rules” introduced a new extremely broad and vague definition of “extremism” with penal consequences infringing upon the fundamental rights of citizens.

Ms Ali pointed out that the remedy for review and appeal provided under the impugned regulations was very limited and narrow. She said a high court, under the regulations, while hearing an appeal would be limited to adjudication upon grounds of the review, and not the entirety of the record.

This limitation, she believed, had the effect of not providing a right of appeal to citizens whose fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, right to access to information, right to dignity and privacy, would have been infringed upon. She said this limitation would also be a blatant violation of the citizens’ rights to fair trial and access to justice.

Through the application, the activist also sought the court’s permission to become a party to a pending petition in favour of the impugned regulations and urged the court to dismiss the same.

Dawn