Ban on TikTok will not be lifted until ‘unlawful’ content eliminated: PTA

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PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) informed the Peshawar supreme court on Wednesday that it won’t lift the ban on TikTok until unlawful contents were far away from the favored video-sharing mobile app and a mechanism for ‘proactive content moderation’ was introduced within the country by its operator.

In a report submitted to a bench consisting of judge Qaiser Rashid Khan and Justice Ijaz Anwar, the PTA said it had issued instructions to the TikTok company under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, and therefore the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards Rules, 2020, to require concrete steps to get rid of unlawful contents from the app.

It added that on the failure of TikTok to suits the instructions, it blocked the app within the country through an order on July 20, 2021.

The bench was hearing a petition jointly filed by 40 residents of Peshawar, who sought orders for the respondents, including PTA and Federal Investigation Agency, to ban TikTok to the extent of the violation of the constitutional provisions, which don’t allow acts contrary to Islamic code of life within the country.

It fixed Oct 28 for a subsequent hearing into the petition directing the PTA to submit details of the progress on the matter.

Senior advocate Jehanzeb Mehsud appeared for the PTA alongside director (technical) Mohammad Farooq and assistant director (legal) Jawad Akhtar of the authority, whereas the federal was represented by deputy attorney general Asghar Khan Kundi.

Nazish Muzaffar and Sara Ali were the counsel for the petitioners.

The report mentioned that the PTA was in continuous correspondence with TikTok and analyzing their steps taken within the light of directions and guidelines communicated from time to time to make sure the safe and responsible use of TikTok by its users, especially youngsters, as most of them were aged between 14 and 18 years.

The authority claimed that it had asked the TikTok company to supply certain details to succeed in a logical conclusion, including strategy and mechanism to regulate unlawful content, especially indecent, which was increasing day by day.

“This may include but is not limited to enhancing capability of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) system, increasing content moderation resources, barring repeated violators from using the platform.”

The PTA also sought the small print of TikTok’s decision to appoint a focal person based in Pakistan for improving coordination among regulators and therefore the social media platform and registration under Rule 9(5) of Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight, and Safeguards) Rules, 2020, and mechanism to ban juveniles from creating a TikTok account.

The PTA said in compliance with orders issued by the Sindh supreme court and therefore the present petition within the PHC, it had approached the TikTok through a letter on July 13 followed by another letter on July 19 with the direction to require action at the earliest, but no concrete steps were initiated.

The directions issued to TikTok included compliance with the directions of the court and PTA with reference to proactive identification and instant removal of unlawful contents, removal of ‘love and dating’ category from the user’s interests page for Pakistan, and development of a mechanism to limit underage use of the platform.

In March, the court had banned the TikTok service within the country resulting in the blocking of people’s access to the video-sharing app. The ban was lifted on April 1 with the court asking the PTA to make sure that no immoral and obscene contents are uploaded thereon.

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