Cyber crimes bill causes worry

Bert Wilkinson | 8/18/2016, 2:45 p.m.
Several Caribbean Community countries are moving to draft new bills or pass legislation to make cyber crimes punishable under law, ...
Man at computer Pixabay

Several Caribbean Community countries are moving to draft new bills or pass legislation to make cyber crimes punishable under law, including heavy fines and jail terms for offenders, but the main regional media umbrella body is perplexed by clauses in some of the drafts.

The Trinidad-based Association of Caribbean Media Workers, for example, this week made known its discomfort with the recent passage of the bill in St. Vincent, saying that some clauses are vague and give officials wide and unreasonable powers to interpret and determine what is actually a crime.

“In addition to broadening criminal defamation to include online expression, the law also introduces worryingly vague and subjective definitions of cyber-harassment and cyber-bullying, both of which are punishable by imprisonment,” the ACM said. On this point ACM has the support of prestigious global bodies such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders, all of which were parties to the ACM’s statement.

The statement came less than a week after Guyana’s parliament deferred a cyber crimes bill to a bipartisan select committee for debate and refinement when sessions resume after the summer recess in early October.

Guyana’s bill suggests three-year jail terms for persons who illegally hack into another’s computer, email and other accounts, illegally intercept the transmission of another, violate privacy, post and deal with child pornography, steal an identity and lure a minor for sexual and related liaisons. Fines of up to $15,000 could also be imposed by courts.

The bill also sets out punishment for offenders who post photographs or videos of private parts of a spouse or another person with the intention of humiliation or embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the police administration steps up training of officers to detect and prosecute offenders. Several officers have been sent overseas for training, and others are being trained locally, officials said.

The media bodies said that the St. Vincent law is now to be seen as a threat to press freedom and the free flow of online information and public debate.

“Defamation in print, written and broadcast media is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment under St. Vincent’s penal code, pre-dating the adoption of the law, but the new legislation extends criminal defamation to online content,” the bodies said. “In addition to broadening criminal defamation to include online expression, the law also introduces worryingly vague and subjective definitions of cyber-harassment and cyber-bullying, both of which are punishable by imprisonment.”

Defamation clauses in the island’s legislation have been included at a time when world press forums have been lobbying governments to abolish criminal defamation laws because they could undermine free expression.

“The issue of criminal defamation has particular importance in the Caribbean, where a similar law was adopted in Grenada in 2013 and subsequently amended after international outcry,” the media bodies said. “Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana are currently considering similar legislation, now under critical review by national, regional and international stakeholders.”