The federal government has taken the decision to register websites, web channels, and YouTube channels and establish an E-Safety authority to monitor online activities. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif chaired the Federal Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, during which the E-Safety Authority Bill was approved.
Sources have revealed that the government aims to strengthen the monitoring of online content, and as a part of this effort, the Ministry of IT has formulated the E-Safety Bill, which has been forwarded to the Federal Cabinet for consideration.
The e-Safety Bill has received in-principle approval from the Federal Cabinet. It outlines the creation of a new authority that will operate independently and will have limited the powers of existing bodies such as PTA, FIA, and PEMRA.
Under the bill’s provisions, the responsibility for registering and monitoring all websites, web channels, and YouTube channels will be entrusted to the e-Safety authority. Additionally, the same authority will also be responsible for registering and monitoring the websites of news channels and newspapers. Furthermore, the e-Safety authority will have the power to block and impose fines on websites disseminating false news.
The bill critiques Section 37 of the PICA Act for online monitoring, stating that it fails to meet the intended objectives. Therefore, the web monitoring authority will be withdrawn from PTA. The bill also deems the powers granted to FIA under the PICA Act insufficient.
Furthermore, the social media rules introduced under the PECA Act have not proven to be effective. PTA currently lacks the capability to block content on social media. Moreover, the bill highlights that no separate authority has been established under the PECA Act to handle cybercrimes, resulting in the burden falling on the already overwhelmed FIA.
The e-Safety authority will also be responsible for registering online news websites, thereby limiting PEMRA’s authority in this area. Additionally, the authority will have the discretion to allocate government advertisements to registered websites, web channels, and YouTube channels that comply with the government’s policies.