The long-expected cybercrime draft was signed into a law last month. While it has several important articles addressing the scourge of hacking, online identity theft and malicious attacks, there are a few provisions that were too broad and vague and could
While the law, which contains five chapters and 54 articles, doles out strict punishments for electronic forgery of official documents and producing, promoting, using or importing and distributing child pornography and hacking, it also has reserved similar harsh sentences and fines for “spreading false news”, “destablising national security”, “violating any of the social values and principles”, or “aggressing another person with libel and slander”. Many worry that these ambiguous terms could be stretched to apply to any online conversation. While industry leaders were happy with the cybercrimes that the law promises to address, journalists worried about the implications of this small but significant part of the legislation. We bring you two divergent and equally compelling points of view on the law which came into immediate effect.
As Qatar's first digital media organisation, we at Doha News are concerned about the potential criminalisation of free speech in Qatar under the new cybercrime law. The legislation goes beyond the scope of cyber-safety in a way that has a chilling effect on media freedom and free speech – rights that are supposed to be enshrined in Qatar's constitution. We take issue specifically with the so-called content crimes outlined in the new legislation. The vagueness of these provisions is troubling. There is no definition of what exactly violates the country's social values, and what the boundaries are between a person's public and private life. Furthermore, the ability to hold individuals accountable for their actions is weakened if such information becomes off-limits.
While this law has serious implications for journalism in Qatar, we are also concerned about how the legislation will be applied to the general public. Qatar is one of the most connected countries in the world, with more than 90% of its residents enjoying online access. While it is now against the law to incite, aid and facilitate the publication of offensive material, it remains unclear whether someone could be jailed or fined for simply retweeting or sharing a post on Twitter or Facebook. We urge authorities to remove the content crime provisions of the new law. At the very least, the government should clearly define what content is unacceptable and spell out what this law means for journalists and internet users in Qatar. Finally, we hope that when this law is applied, the nation's leaders remember what they have been telling the rest of the world for the last several months: Journalism is not a crime.
The new legislation was the need of the hour. It appropriately defines the most common and major crimes committed using technology and internet. The penalty provisions are also an adequate deterrent. It is said that on average, 20 identity thefts take place globally every minute. Reports also indicate that cybercrimes have now surpassed illegal trafficking in drugs as a means of deriving illegal money. In turn, this can result in the commission of other serious crimes such as money laundering and terrorism financing. The new law appropriately addresses the menaces of identity theft, hacking, cyber espionage, financial fraud, slander, IP infringement, child abuse, and the still worse threat of cyber terrorism. Anti-cybercrime legislation has drawn criticism in all countries when enacted. The critics must recognise the fact that absolute freedom in cyberspace may well be disastrous for any society. Public order, social values and national security are also of the utmost importance. Interpol differentiates cybercrimes into three broad categories: (i) attacks against computer hardware and software; (ii) financial crimes and (iii) abuse (especially of young people). The new law addresses all these threats, and therefore can be considered at par with international standards. A major hurdle in the endeavour to curb cybercrimes, unlike physical crimes, is the cross-border commission of offences. An offence is often committed from across the border of the country where its victim is situated. Often the suspect escapes to another jurisdiction to avoid the clutches of law. This necessitates the need for co-operation between countries in exchanging information as well as extraditing criminals wanted for cybercrimes. The newly enacted cybercrime prevention law provides for co-operation between investigating agencies and at the same time ensures that no foreign state shall use these provisions to further a hidden agenda of chasing out a person for reasons such as political rivalry. The cyber world undergoes constant and rapid changes as new technologies are invented or developed every day. Criminal minds are equally creative and talented enough to invent new ways of making use of the development in technology to make illegal money; to spread hatred; and to defame nations, religions, families or individuals. The laws addressing cybercrimes shall therefore be subject to constant updating to keep pace with the developments in technology. The new law is indeed a welcome move in the right direction.
ABDUL RASHEED K P Legal Consultant, Law Offices of Gebran Majdalany
SHABINA KHATRI Executive Editor and Co-founder Doha News