The government has been on a roll lately when it comes to internet and media regulation, blocking online applications like TikTok, removing streaming content it deems inappropriate, and so on. What it does not realise is that apart from stifling creativity and regulating its citizens, it is also putting tech companies on the defence, whose outlets the government wants to regulate.

The Asia Internet Coalition, which represents some of the mightiest tech giants in the world today, like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter, has in a letter raised its concerns regarding rules the cabinet is in the process for finalising for blocking of online content. The Coalition has expressed concerns that the rules, called “the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020 (“Rules”), will lead to more and more government control to regulate content, access user data and ultimately have that data transferred to their jurisdiction.

Some of the demands that the rules make are not unreasonable. For example, the rules encourage these companies to open a local office in Pakistan. These demands are justifiable—considering the massive outreach of these internet companies in Pakistan, it is only reasonable that citizens should also reap the employment benefits of a local office, and be guaranteed of further protection of data. The rest of the demands however are concerning—the companies have fixed turnaround times for companies to remove content when ordered to and to start blocking certain types of content even without receiving a formal request.

The government must realise that the laws of the free market apply even more to the cyberspace—it cannot attempt to fashion the tech companies’ policies as it pleases, and use them as a monitoring arm. These companies have a big stake in the market and things like data localisation expose them to too much regulation. These rules need to be amended, with consultation of tech companies and NGOs which specialise in digital safety.