RSF urges Parliament to amend drafted Cybercrime Bill

first_imgReporters Without Borders (RSF) has reinforced calls for Guyanese legislators to amend the draft Cybercrime Bill, which it said could have a damaging effect on press freedom.In a letter dated June 7, 2018 to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the RSF outlined its concerns with the legislation.Only last month, Guyana joined the world to observe World Press Freedom Day under the theme: “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law”.However, the observance came at a time when many feel press freedom and freedom of expression in Guyana are being threatened by sections of the proposed Cybercrime legislation, such as penalising whistle-blowers,Attorney General Basil Williamsinstitutionalisation of criminal defamation, and sedition clauses.While the Guyanese Government has a legitimate interest in regulating the internet to ensure certain criminal activity—such as computer fraud, identity theft, and child pornography—do not take place, RSF is concerned with several provisions of this proposed legislation that could have a deterrent effect on journalists’ reporting.For example, Section 9 criminalises receiving data; one is not “authorised” to receive, regardless of whether that person knows the data was obtained by “unauthorised” means from the sender.This could pose a threat to press freedom if used to penalise journalists for publishing reports based on information from confidential sources. Equally alarming, Section 18 allows officials to prosecute online speech they believe to excite “disaffection” toward the Government, and without a clear definition of “disaffection,” the range of punishable speech is effectively unlimited.Even worse, it could create a significant liability risk for journalists publishing articles that may be deemed critical of the state, the media watchdog pointed out.“RSF has sent this letter to Prime Minister Nagamootoo because, as it exists, the proposed cybercrime legislation could have a serious chilling effect on press freedom in Guyana,” said Margaux Ewen, RSF’s North America Director.“Provisions like Section 18, the sedition clause, could pose significant risks for journalists publishing articles that may be deemed critical of the state or Government officials, especially given the clause’s vague and subjective language”, Ewen added.According to the organisation, these provisions are all the more dangerous because the Bill provides for wide-ranging jurisdiction, and gives the Police and judicial authorities broad authority to access the personal data of those under investigation.Section 37, for example, gives broad authority to a judge to “remove, or disable access to” user-generated content hosted or stored on their services; while Section 38 authorises the use of remote forensic tools to intercept private data.When reviewed alongside the potential harm provisions like Section 9 or 18 may have on journalistic activities, it is clear that the Cybercrime Bill must be amended to include exemptions that allow reporting to continue to flourish in Guyana.Guyana ranks 55th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The Guyana Press Association (GPA) had said that this improved ranking came amidst “significant hurdles” yet to be overcome. These include: the removal of existing criminal defamation laws in line with globally accepted standards; the deletion of offending sections in the Cybercrime Bill that could result in further entrenchment of criminal defamation; the amendment to the Broadcasting Act to remove direct intervention in the programming schedule of radio and television stations, except in cases of emergency; political interference in the state-owned and privately-owned media by Government and the Opposition.last_img read more