Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) ruling against Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) blocking of websites is welcome when the state censorship is suffocating the social and political landscape of the country. With IHC’s ruling against the PTA, many questions arise. First and foremost to ask is that since PTA’s actions are illegal, will the authority unblock all such sites? Will the owners of the blocked sites receive anything in compensation?

Under the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016, the PTA has the authority to interpret the law, which otherwise is a judicial function. The powers in the hand of the PTA under PECA severely curtail fundamental rights of the citizens. The court has directed the PTA to prescribe rules providing for the due process. But will the PTA comply for the court order is taking some powers from the PTA?

Nevertheless, the court has given the PTA a timeframe of three months to make necessary rules. The court has taken the right step by asking the authority to frame rules in this regard. Had the court not made the PTA bound to do so by giving it a deadline, the body would have left the matter in limbo. Saying so is not an exaggeration for the PTA has admitted before the court its failure to prescribe rules related to blocking of websites even three years after the enactment of the relevant laws. Three months are more than enough to frame a set of rules that do not go in violation of the fundamental rights that the constitution guarantees.

The esteemed court has given a landmark judgement against PTA’s illegal actions. However, the act aforementioned that empowers the PTA to block websites will carry on blocking sites even if the due process becomes part of the law. The agency will still take a regressive attitude towards sections linked to expression and information. The grounds that PTA can use for blocking any website including integrity, security and defence of the country, public order, morality or contempt are incredibly vague. The vagueness of these grounds allows the authorities to act in an extreme authoritarian manner.

Moreover, the PECA serves the purpose of a tool in the hands of the authorities to curtail information. Especially, section 37 of the said act gives the government unfettered powers to block access or remove anything that the government does not agree with. And the same section also allows PTA to interpret how the exclusions are to be applied. The judiciary has played its role. It is now up to the opposition to contest all the bottlenecks in the said piece of legislation in the parliament.